Planning for Climate Adaptation

A changing climate impacts people and the environment in a variety of ways, including changes in precipitation, more intense storms, fluctuating lake levels, and shifts in average temperature. For more information about the trends expected to impact the Great Lakes region, visit Climate Change. Many state and local governments are already preparing for the effects of climate change through adaptation, which is planning for changes that are expected to occur.

The guiding principle for preparing for variability is to increase adaptive capacity. Adaptive capacity is the ability of built, natural, and human systems (e.g., roads, rivers, healthcare) to accommodate climate variability with minimal potential damage or cost. To increase adaptive capacity, we must improve ecosystem and infrastructure resiliency. Resiliency is the ability of a system to cope with disturbances. The more resilient our ecosystems and infrastructure are, the higher their capacity to adapt in the face of climate-related variability. For example, heavy downpours are becoming more frequent, which increases the need for resilience to large quantities of stormwater runoff, erosion, and flooding.

While our knowledge of natural systems and climate trends is improving over time, we will continue to be challenged by the uncertainty of nature. To prepare for this uncertain future, communities are exploring ways to increase resilience to a range of predicted environmental and climate-related conditions.

Climate adaptation planning

Climate adaptation planning is used to develop and apply plans to reduce the impacts and consequences of climate change and climate variability. There are a variety of approaches to climate adaptation planning.

Some communities create a dedicated climate adaptation plan — a document describing strategies for how to address impacts of climate change — while others focus on existing goals, adding the lens of climate variability to assess implications for stated goals, objectives, and strategies.

If such large-scale efforts are not possible, focus on a specific project to ensure that environmental variability is addressed in a proactive way. Even without a dedicated adaptation planning process, a community can do a broad assessment of what fluctuating environmental conditions will mean for existing goals, objectives, and strategies.

Though the planning effort may be initiated at the regional or community scale, individuals have opportunities to engage — participating in public meetings and workshops, for example.

Basic steps for climate adaptation planning:

Step 1: Initiate planning process

  • Scope out level of effort and responsibility
  • Assess resource needs and availability
  • Assemble planning team and establish responsibilities
  • Educate, engage, and involve stakeholders

Step 2: Conduct vulnerability assessment

  • Identify climate change phenomena
  • Identify climate change impacts and consequences
  • Assess physical characteristics and exposure
  • Consider adaptive capacities
  • Develop scenarios and simulate change
  • Summarize vulnerability and identify focus areas

Step 3: Identify adaptation strategy

  • Set goals
  • Identify actions
  • Evaluate, select, and prioritize actions
  • Write action plans

Step 4: Implement and maintain plan

  • Adopt the plan
  • Implement the plan
  • Integrate plan into other state planning efforts and programs
  • Track, evaluate, and communicate plan progress
  • Update the plan