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Local Land Use Planning and Climate Change Policy

Summary Report from Focus Groups and Interviews With Local Officials in the Intermountain West

David Metz and Curtis Below

December 2009, English

Planning for climate change entails many challenges, and in the Intermountain West this may be particularly so. In early 2009, Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3 Research) conducted a series of focus groups and one-on-one telephone interviews in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, to better understand how local officials in the Intermountain West are addressing – or not addressing – climate change in their planning and local land use decisions. The goal was to identify primary obstacles in planning for climate change and how they can be overcome; determining what local government officials need to craft effective policies in planning for climate change; and how best to convey that information. The research showed that while a minority of participating communities had formal action plans for planning for climate change, and openly discussed strategies for reducing the carbon footprints, the majority viewed climate change as a secondary consideration – at best – in land use planning. In fact, numerous participants reported that local residents are generally skeptical that climate change is a serious problem, or that it results from human activities. However, the participants reported that local government staff – and to a lesser extent, elected officials – are increasingly engaging in planning for climate change indirectly through other policy decisions. For example, creating higher energy and water efficiency standards for new development is often primarily motivated by a desire to save money or preserve local resources, though such a policy also helps address climate change. It appears to be far more common for communities to adopt these polices under the auspices of “sustainability” or “economic efficiency” rather than planning for climate change. The research was completed for the Joint Venture of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and Sonoran Institute, now called Western Lands and Communities.


Conservation, Development, Economic Development, Environment, Environmental Planning, Land Use Planning, Local Government, Planning, Public Policy, Sustainable Development