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 temperatures. Many state and local governments are already preparing for the impacts of climate change through adaptation, which is planning for changes that are expected to occur.

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 of this uncertain future, communities are exploring ways to increase resilience to a range of predicted environmental and climate-related conditions.

Climate-related Impacts to Coastal Communities

The Great Lakes region is subject to climate-related risks that will uniquely affect our waterfront communities. Increasing frequency and intensity of storms, fluctuating water levels and changes in average precipitation and temperature are all expected.

For specific examples of potential climate impacts and responses in the Great Lakes, see:

  • Reinforcing our Waterfronts: Increased Resilience at Marinas and Harbors (Michigan Sea Grant): A summary of climate-related risks and best practices to increase resilience for marinas and harbor. For additional detail, see: Climate Adaptation Tip Sheets.
  • What Could Changing Great Lakes Water Levels Mean for our Coastal Communities? See: The Nature Conservancy’s Case Study on climate-adapted planning approaches.

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 adaption 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 Adaption Planning:

  • Step 1 – Initiate Planning Process:
    • 1) Scope out level of effort and responsibility
    • 2) Assess resources needs and availability
    • 3) Assemble planning team and establish responsibilities
    • 4) Educate, engage and involve stakeholders
  • Step 2 – Conduct Vulnerability Assessment:
    • 1) Identify climate change phenomena
    • 2) Identify climate change impacts and consequences
    • 3) Assess physical characteristics and exposure
    • 4) Consider adaptive capacities
    • 5) Develop scenarios and simulate change
    • 6) Summarize vulnerability and identify focus areas
  • Step 3 – Identify Adaptation Strategy:
    • 1) Set goals
    • 2) Identify actions
    • 3) Evaluate, select and prioritize actions
    • 4) Write action plans
  • Step 4 – Implement and Maintain Plan:
    • 1) Adopt the plan
    • 2) Implement the plan
    • 3) Integrate plan into other state planning efforts and programs
    • 4) Track, evaluate and communicate plan progress
    • 5) Update the plan

For details on how to implement these steps, see: Adapting to Climate Change: A Planning Guide for State Coastal Managers (NOAA), a guide to climate adaptation planning process, assessing vulnerability, devising a strategy and implementing the plan. A Great Lakes supplement to the plan is also available.

Additional guidance for climate adaptation planning:

Tools for adaptation planning:

The Climate Adaptation Community

If you are looking for camaraderie in the journey toward climate adaptation, visit these hubs for online support:

  • Climate Adaptation Collaboratory: Online, interactive resource where you can share information, tools, ideas and experiences for collaborative research and decision-making.
  • Great Lakes Climate: A curated and annotated collection of Great Lakes climate change resources to help educators, government officials, community planners and the public.
  • Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange (CAKE): A shared knowledge base for managing natural and built systems in the face of rapid climate change.

For more information on climate issues, see: Climate Resources.