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Climate Smart Communities Program explained during virtual webinar

Plattsburgh Climate Task Force coordinator Rachelle Armstrong
Pat Bradley
Plattsburgh Climate Task Force coordinator Rachelle Armstrong (file)

Lake Champlain Sea Grant, a partnership between SUNY Plattsburgh, the University of Vermont and NOAA, recently hosted a webinar on engaging communities in climate action.

The Sea Grant works to protect Lake Champlain and a primary area of interest is helping communities find ways to adapt to climate change. One method is through New York’s Climate Smart Communities.

Adirondack North Country Association Climate Smart Communities Coordinator Carlie Leary provided an overview of the statewide initiative.

“It’s a free voluntary New York state program that any municipality can join,” Leary said. “That’s a village, town, city or county level can participate in this program. It’s really designed to help local governments participate in climate action to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and build resiliency to climate change, the unfortunate effects that we’re all going to feel in the future. It’s sponsored by six different state agencies. The program design has been informed by several different agencies. It’s pretty interdisciplinary. It has focuses that span from policy to more actionable items like installing EV charging stations.”

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Regional coordinators provide technical assistance and resources that allow communities to begin taking action. A certification program helps a community become more competitive when seeking grants. Leary noted there are currently 381 registered and 118 certified communities participating in the Climate Smart initiative across New York.

“A registered community within the Climate Smart Communities program is just a community that’s made a commitment to this program by passing a local resolution adopting the ten-point pledge,” Leary said. “It shows the state that your community is willing to start to look at your emissions, look at how you can change your government practices to better prepare for climate change. And then our certified communities are the ones who’ve made that concrete progress. The ones that have actually started to take action. All of the actions have varying amounts of points that they’re worth and you can become bronze or silver certified throughout this program. We don’t have a gold certification yet.”

The city of Plattsburgh is expected to be re-categorized from registered to certified by July. Climate Task Force Coordinator Rachelle Armstrong says efforts began several years ago after a high school student asked the Common Council to ban plastic straws. A number of grassroots efforts followed that led to a resolution committing the city to the Climate Smart Communities actions and the creation of a Climate Task Force.

“Several CSC actions were undertaken including the development of an environmentally preferable purchasing policy and recycling in government buildings,” Armstrong said. “The city also applied for a CSC grant to do a greenhouse gas inventory and climate action plan which it won in 2020, a matching grant. Unfortunately, COVID hit and the task force activities were interrupted.”

The city renewed its commitment in 2022 and a new task force was formed. A new resolution was passed by the city council.

“The central focus is on promoting climate mitigation and adaptation,” Armstrong said. “And for the most part the task force has offered action recommendations. We are an advisory board. This has been an evolving process and I suggest that to begin with, anybody’s who’s starting up to do what we did not do and wish we had: have a joint orientation meeting with the municipal governing body and develop a mutual vision. You know, that’s a good starting off place. I think it’s really important to be able to track your progress. We have working groups. It really is an invaluable means of targeting projects and efficiently managing work.”