Climate Adaptation Planning – Challenges, Requirements, and the Need to Streamline

Climate Adaptation Planning – Challenges, Requirements and the Need to Streamline

The Challenge

Cities and counties across the United States face a variety of challenges from climate variability and change as well as non-climate stressors that changing climate conditions threaten to exacerbate. Local jurisdictions that repair infrastructure, make land use decisions, and engage communities in a way that accounts for future change, can help make their cities more resilient. However, many cities and counties lack the capacity, resources, and funding to assess climate risks, integrate climate adaptation into existing plans, and implement adaptation actions in the face of competing or more immediate needs.

Even so, a growing number of local jurisdictions are engaging in voluntary commitments to mitigate and adapt to climate change. A wide range of available resources makes this possible, and climate legislation increasingly requires it, but both can also make implementing a cohesive, streamlined adaptation strategy difficult. Several federal agencies (FEMA and NOAA), state agencies (California Adaptation Planning Guide), international institutions (GIZ), and NGOs (National Wildlife Federation) have developed climate hazard or vulnerability assessment and/or adaptation planning guidance and methods. Industry and sector-specific tools and literature are also available from a multitude of sources. No single option can meet the diverse adaptation planning needs of cities and counties across the US, but the range of sources also presents local jurisdictions with the challenges of selecting a methodology, building climate literacy, and using their assessments to inform multiple goals, plans and projects.

The Requirements

In California, legislation exists that actively seeks to promote the integration of adaptation and resilience into local planning processes. Senate Bill No. 379 Land Use: general plan: safety element (Jackson) (SB 379) calls on local governments in California to incorporate adaptation and resilience strategies into the Safety Elements of their General Plans as well as their local hazard mitigation plans starting in 2017. Assembly Bill No. 2140 General plans: safety element (Hancock) enables local jurisdictions to adopt a local hazard mitigation plan as their safety element, facilitating integration of hazard mitigation into General Plans.

To support local governments’ implementation of SB 379, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research recently issued draft guidelines for integrating climate considerations into Safety Elements. The draft guidelines build on the State’s Adaptation Planning Guide (2012) and emphasize the need for communities to adopt a longer-term perspective in preparing for climate risks. They also highlight the importance of identifying linkages and complementarity across different elements of the General Plan and other relevant plans. Thus, there is a need to unify and streamline efforts to boost resilience and integrate adaptation comprehensively into city and county planning in a way that leverages local capacity and resources, uses the best available science and data, and meets local needs as well as relevant requirements.

It is important to note that these requirements are in addition to local commitments and planning processes that each come with their own timelines and demands. Cities that commit to voluntary agreements, such as the Global Covenant of Mayors are required both to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address the impacts of climate change by identifying climate hazards, assessing vulnerabilities, and developing adaptation plans. Cities may have adopted several plans that integrate or overlap with climate planning, such as Climate Action Plans, Adaptation Plans, Resilience Strategies, Transit Oriented Development Strategies and more. Adaptation has a crosscutting role to play across all these forms of city planning, so comprehensive integration of risk and vulnerability assessment and adaptation action is essential.

Towards a Solution

In support of implementation of integrated climate adaptation planning, Four Twenty Seven has developed a streamlined process to support local governments in their efforts to integrate climate risks into key planning efforts, such as local hazard mitigation plans, general plans, and climate action plans. Through our work for seven cities in Alameda County, on behalf of the County waste authority, StopWaste, we designed an assessment process and report to help cities meet the requirements of SB 379. For each city, this work responds to these requirements and others by providing a climate hazard exposure analysis and proposing a set of adaptation options to help each city plan for future conditions.

The assessment and report are designed to be applicable to multiple cities and useful for multiple planning processes. The objective is to develop one hazard assessment and set of adaptation actions that can fulfill or inform multiple city demands and decision making processes. In this case, the hazard assessment focused on asset-specific exposure, however, the methodology could be expanded to include the other components of vulnerability – adaptive capacity and sensitivity – in order to meet the needs of other jurisdictions and planning processes while promoting an accessible and streamlined approach to climate hazard assessment and adaptation planning. The second blogpost in this series on local adaptation planning will discuss climate hazard assessment in greater detail, and the third blog in the series will focus on adaptation planning.


This is Part 1 of a three-part blog series on integrating climate change adaptation into local government planning. In Part 2 we will explain our hazard exposure assessment process and how the analysis of key assets can simplify the analysis of climate risk, fulfill multiple planning processes and direct further inquiry and planning. In Part 3 we will discuss the development of adaptation actions that are actionable, responsive to hazard assessment findings and aligned with other city planning documents.