Adaptation to Climate Change
Problem: Even if significant reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions are achieved, some amount of climate change appears to be inevitable. Local, regional, state, and federal planning and regulation should begin to address how to adapt to these changes.
Purpose: This article presents a policy synthesis of adaptation planning issues, using California as a case study. We examine the institutional and regulatory challenges and tradeoffs that climate change poses in six particularly vulnerable areas: water resources, electricity, coastal resources, air quality, public health, and ecosystem resources. We discuss obstacles to adaptation planning and successes overcoming these barriers, and suggest how planning can incorporate adaptation.
Methods: This article presents a policy synthesis of adaptation planning issues, drawing on our recent research on California’s experience and related literature. We summarize the results of six studies that draw on quantitative and qualitative information gathered through surveys, interviews, and literature review.
Results and conclusions: Planners should use forward-looking climate data that include higher water and air temperatures, sea-level rise, and increased numbers of extreme events like heat waves, floods, and wildfires when making decisions about future development, infrastructure investments, open-space protection, and disaster preparedness. Climate change will exacerbate conflicts between goals for economic development, habitat protection, and public safety, requiring stronger interagency coordination and new laws and regulations.
Takeaway for practice: Local and regional planners can help society adapt to a changing climate by using the best available science, deciding on goals and early actions, locating relevant partners, identifying and eliminating regulatory barriers, and encouraging the introduction of new state mandates and guidelines.
Research support: Partial support for this research was provided by Pacific Gas and Electric, The Nature Conservancy, and Next 10.