Course Syllabus

Columbia University

Urban Planning Program


PLAN 6612 Planning for Justice in a Low Carbon Future (Fall 2022)

Monday 11am-1pm

Prof. Javier Lopez and Ariella Maron



Cities around the world are facing the complex reality of climate change and its severe impacts on the urban environment. Extreme events like hurricanes, heat waves, and droughts are impacting economies, devastating communities, and exacerbating existing inequalities around health and wealth.  According to the International Panel on Climate Change, limiting climate change will require major transitions in the energy sector to reduce fossil fuel use, including through widespread electrification, lower energy consumption, use of renewable energy sources, and enhancing carbon update and storage through nature-based strategies.

Urban areas offer significant opportunities for emissions reductions through these methods, and planners have key roles to play in facilitating their implementation and ensuring equitable outcomes. Actions to reduce climate-related pollution can also help to address past harms, improve housing quality, create new economic pathways, and enhance quality of life.  But this is only possible with planning processes that are designed for equitable outcomes from the start. This course situates climate action in a local planning context, exploring different approaches and tools to help planners address the twin, interconnected challenges of climate change and inequality. The course begins with an introduction to the history, leaders, and key principles of the environmental justice, energy democracy, and Just Transition movements. Students will then explore various types of climate action strategies, policies and programs; dive deep into inclusive and equitable engagement processes; and evaluate and discuss case studies from across the country.

Objectives and Expectations

This course will explore and compare different planning frameworks and tools developed by environmental justice leaders, practitioners, government staff, and communities to support inclusive approaches to policy making, program development, planning, and implementation related to climate action. Key learning objectives for students are:

  • To become knowledgeable of the history and issues pertaining to inequality and how they relate to climate change.
  • To understand how to respect and center black, brown, indigenous voices in the environment and climate justice movements.
  • To develop an understanding of how inclusive planning approaches and processes can influence the outcomes of regulatory and legislative policies, land use and development plans, and citywide and community initiatives.
  • To have a general awareness of technical solutions to the climate crisis and to think innovatively about alternative planning and policy approaches to their equitable implementation to bring about transformational climate action.


This class will be organized around three clusters:

  1. Setting the foundation: provides background understanding on the basics of climate science and focuses on the history and principles of the environmental and climate justice movements.
  2. Centering Black and Brown voices: introduces approaches and tools to elevate and center community priorities, needs, and opportunities in climate action.
  3. Putting Concepts into Climate Action: dives into case studies covering community co-creation and other power shifting approaches to develop and implement climate action policies and programs aimed at reducing emissions from buildings, energy supply, transportation systems, land use, and waste.


Course Outline


Cluster 1: Setting the stage


  • September 12. Session 1: Climate change basics & the connection between climate change and inequality
    Topics explored: Course introduction, climate change scientific and technological basics, environmental racism and the interconnected nature of climate change with racial inequality and related health and economic impacts


Readings and assignments:

  • IPCC, 2022: Summary for Policymakers [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, M. Tignor, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem (eds.)]. In: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press.
  • Hopkins, H. “Racism is Killing the Planet.” 2020,
  • Guivarch, Celine and Taconet, Nicole. “Linking Climate and Inequality.” The International Monetary Fund (IMF), September 2021,


  • September 19. Session 2: History and key principles of the environmental justice movement
    Topics explored: When and where did the movement start? What are the environmental justice principles? Where does intersectionality show up in environmental justice?


Readings and assignments:


  • September 26. Session 3: Environmental Justice in New York-From Movement to Policy

Topics explored:  How movement work impacts policy, deep dive into the State of New York’s Climate Justice Working Group advising on the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA)


Readings and assignments:



  • October 3. Session 4: History, principles, and influence of Just Transition

Topics explored: History of Just Transition, influence of the Just Transition framework globally (UN Sustainable Development Goals) and nationally (Green New Deal), Just Transition in practice, and the roles of local governments, movement, philanthropy, and the private sector in the movement.


Readings and assignments:


Cluster 2:  Centering Black and Brown Voices


  • October 10. Session 5: Defining Equity and Elevating Racial Equity

Topics explored: Why racial equity matters, assessing distributional, procedural, structural, inter-generation equity, and the differences between equality, equity, and justice

Readings and assignments:            


  • October 17. Session 6: Sharing Power

Topics explored: Spectrum of Community Engagement, how to avoid saviorism, and revisiting the roles of movement, philanthropy, and the public and private sectors.


Readings and assignments:


  • October 24. Session 7: Participatory research and the role of data

Topics covered:  Approaches for participatory research and how (and when) to apply them

Readings and assignments:



October 31. Session 8: Energy Democracy & Collaborative Governance
Topics covered:  What is Energy Democracy? What is Collaborative Governance? Case Studies from NYC, Philadelphia, and Denver.


Readings and assignments:


Cluster 3: Putting Concepts into Action


  • November 7. Session 9: Equitable Building Decarbonization

Topics covered: Equitable approaches to designing and implementing building energy policies and programs, policies and program overview around the country, case studies.


Readings and assignments:

Topics covered: Transportation Equity


Readings and assignments:


  • November 21. Session 11: Energy Supply
    Topics Explored: Repositioning gas utilities, decommissioning highly polluting power plants in environmental justice communities, new business models for energy ownerships, key provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act–what supports justice and what does not.


Readings and Assignments:


  • November 28. Session 12: Land Use, Density, and Real Estate

Topics explored:  Addressing historic racial discrimination in land use, cumulative impact policies, community land trusts, the shift away from single-family residential zoning



  • December 5. Session 13—Final Presentations (I)


  • December 12. Session 14—Final Presentations (II)


  • December 19--Final papers due


Assignments and Grading

Course grades will be based upon the following:

  • Attendance and participation (15%)
    Students are expected to read the assigned materials prior to class and be prepared to discuss the content. Grading will be based on engagement with and quality contributions to class discussions
  • Completion and quality of five assignments (85%), including case worksheets and a policy paper:

Mid-semester assignments (30%):

  1. Case Study Presentations: deadline based on sign-up (15%)
  2. Case Worksheet: due October 24 (15%)

Final policy paper (55%):

  1. Presentation: deadline based on sign-up (20%)
  2. Draft final policy paper: due November 21(20%)
  3. Final policy paper: due December 19 (15%)





Course Summary:

Date Details Due