Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Urban Studies and Public Affairs


Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs

First Advisor

Bowen, William

Subject Headings

Environmental Studies, Public Policy, Sustainability, Transportation Planning, Urban Planning


Climate change is one of the most daunting problems of our time requiring innovative responses to its causes and consequences. In the United States, the long absence of strong federal leadership along with growing public awareness of the problem created a fertile ground for state-level climate action planning. To date, 34 states have adopted Climate Action Plans (CAPs). The question that this study addresses is: Does state-level climate action have the potential to reduce carbon emissions significantly? This question was examined by assessing the relationships between CAPs, emissions reduction targets, plan implementation and emissions mitigation. My hypothesis was that CAPs result in emissions mitigation beyond the trend.

This study compares states with and without CAPs, before and after adoption and implementation of plans. The first phase of the research, a content analysis of state-level CAPs, involves four components: 1) CAP development procedures; 2) goal setting, policy coverage and regional coordination; 3) implementation provisions and conditions; and 4) implementation mechanisms and monitoring results. The analysis reveals six types of CAPs, categorized based on the rigor of their targets and implementation. The second phase of the research analyzes the relationships between CAP types and changes in emissions using panel emissions data from 1990 to 2013. The regression model controls for social, political and climatic context, industrial mix and change over time, urban form and energy prices.

The research shows that CAPs do result in reductions in emissions, although they are modest. Only a few CAPs set enforceable targets and provide strong evidence of implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Overall, progress towards goals is slow and near-term targets are low. The findings also suggest a role for planners in two key areas: transportation and land use. The analysis demonstrates that state-level CAPs call for low emissions reductions from transportation and land use changes, compared to these sectors’ contribution to total emissions. The regression, though, shows that urban compactness leads to transportation emissions reductions even when controlling for changes in income, energy prices and unemployment. Thus, transportation planning represents a large opportunity for future emissions reductions—particularly through integration with smart growth policies.