Climate Adaptation

Climate Adaptation

Legislation   |   Science & Reports   |   Resources   |   News


Climate change is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. Yet carbon dioxide levels continue to climb, now above 400 parts per million, and the consequences are already devastating. The year 2015 was the hottest on record for the planet. The sea level is rising faster in the Gulf of Maine than almost anywhere else on Earth. Record drought and wildfires, stronger storms and unpredictable snowpack and flooding are becoming the norm across the nation. Rising tides, storm surge and recurrent flooding are impacting coastal properties valued at over $39 trillion on the Eastern Seaboard. States are witnessing dramatic changes to land cover, fish and wildlife and habitat, water systems, agriculture and outdoor recreation opportunities because of climate change.

There are several types of tools that states can employ for climate adaptation, including: planning such as comprehensive plans and approaches to adaptation; regulatory tools such as building codes, growth plans, setbacks, buffers; spending tools such as capital improvements and land acquisition; and tax and market-based strategies such as tax and other incentives. It is critical for states to assess their own climate impacts and to put policies in place to adapt to the climate changes that are occurring. NCEL provides numerous resources, experts and examples of successful state adaptation strategies to protect natural systems, wildlife, habitat, infrastructure and health and safety. 

Key Points

1) Natural solutions to climate change damage are often the cheapest, most effective, most socially acceptable and provide the most benefits. For example, wetland and stream restoration can provide protection from storms and flooding, and also enhance water and air quality.

2) Commercial enterprises such as commercial fishing, forestry, pollination, skiing and other outdoor recreation, and all coastal tourism and infrastructure depend upon strong climate adaptation strategies. The outdoor recreation economy alone brings in over $646 billion per year.

3) Protection and creation of large landscapes and wildlife corridors protects wildlife attempting to adapt to climate changes, as well as provides many “ecosystem services” such as sediment and erosion control, pollinator habitat, and recreation and wildlife viewing opportunities.

4) The cost of the California drought in 2015 was $2.7 billion and 21,000 jobs. Water conservation, urban forest management, green infrastructure  and collection and analysis of snowpack and streamflow data are all useful adaptation strategies for water issues.


State legislatures can provide state agencies and local communities with the tools to implement climate adaptation plans and mitigation strategies. Legislators can also create state interagency councils to facilitate more effective communication, provide funding for local or private entities, and require climate change as a facet of land use planning. Click the first drop-down menu below for a list of enacted legislation related to climate adaptation, and use the second drop-down menu for examples of state stormwater codes to combat increased flooding from climate change.

Enacted Legislation

  • Requiring state agencies to ensure that state investments are resilient to climate impacts:

    • Maryland, HB 615 creates the Coast Smart Council to oversee state infrastructure projects and requirements that new and reconstructed state facilities be planned, designed and sites to avoid or minimize future flood damage.  
    • New York Community Risk and Resilience Act requires the NY Department of Environmental Conservation to develop official sea level rise projects for the state.  The law also requires state agencies to consider future climate change risk in specific state programs including:  state funding for land preservation and acquisition, smart growth requirements, state clean water and drinking water revolving funds, siting of hazardous substances, and local coastal programs, among other programs.
    • Federal Requirements:  FHWA has proposed rulemaking to require states to consider climate change in risk-based asset management plans, which will be required for federal transportation dollars.  FEMA guidance now requires states to consider climate change in state Hazard Mitigation Plans, which are required to receive federal disaster recovery aid.  Federal Flood Risk Management Standards will require projects built with federal dollars to be elevated.

    Creating state interagency councils:

    • HI, Act 83 establishes an interagency adaptation committee to develop a sea level rise vulnerability and adaptation report addressing statewide impacts to 2050.
    • Maryland, HB 514 codified the state’s Commission on Climate Change.
    • New Hampshire, SB 163 established the Coastal Risk and Hazards Commission to make recommendations of legislation needed to protect coastal communities from sea-level rise and extreme weather.

    Providing funding or financing for local or private adaptation initiatives:

    • CT ShoreUp Connecticut revolving fund to provide loans to elevate homes and flood-proof businesses.

    Requiring localities to consider climate change in local comprehensive plans that drive land-use decisionmaking:

    • Virginia Legislation (SB 1443) requires localities in the Hampton Roads region to consider risks from sea level rise and recurrent flooding – but not sure why the legislation was limited to this region.  Communities all along the Bay will be vulnerable to flooding from sea level rise, and inland communities may also experience greater risk of flooding from increased precipitation.
    • Florida passed legislation giving local governments the option of designating Adaptation Action Areas in their comprehensive plans to designate areas at risk of sea level rise and other impacts of climate change, to adopt strategies to prepare those areas for impacts, and to direct and prioritize those areas for resilience investments.  Florida also passed SB 1094 requiring local governments to consider sea level rise in the coastal element of their local comprehensive plan.
    • California passed legislation (SB 379) requiring cities and counties to include and climate adaptation and resilience strategy into local land-use plans

    Providing grants and technical assistance to help local governments plan for climate change:

    • CA developed the CalAdapt tool to provide climate science and data to local governments and provides technical planning grants to update local coastal management plans.
    • CT enacted legislation (Act 13-9) required the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to collect climate data and report on climate adaptation efforts within the state.  The legislation also created the CT Center for Coasts to conduct research, outreach and education on protecting coastal ecosystems and properties from the effects of sea level rise.

    A full list of climate adaptation policies is available through the Georgetown Climate Center here:

State and Local Stormwater Codes

    • Maryland has a comprehensive Stormwater Management Plan, available hereThe Plan is based on Maryland’s Stormwater Management Act of 2007 and the Watershed Protection and Restoration Program (HB987) which was signed into law in April 2012. SB 863 in 2015 revised the 2012 law to give more flexibility to local governments to enact their own watershed protection programs.
    • Iowa has a state and locally funded voluntary program for dealing with stormwater, “Rainscaping Iowa,” available here.  The state portion of the funding comes from the Iowa DNR State Revolving Fund, and more information is available here
    • Portland has a “Grey to Green” program which helps to deal with stormwater through green infrastructure as part of its Sustainable Stormwater Program, available here, and as part of its Innovative Wet Weather Program that was funded by an EPA grant, available here.
    • The new Seattle Stormwater Code and Manual became effective on January 1, 2016. The code includes green stormwater infrastructure, and requirements for drainage plans by new developers. The new code can be viewed here.  Also see Seattle’s “Rainwise Program” for managing stormwater at home here

Science & Reports

This extensive report provides a detailed overview of how the changing climate will impact the U.S. in the immediate and distant future. The report was developed by more than 300 experts, and received rigorous review by the public and experts. The full report is available here.

This EPA site provides links and overviews to several studies from the mid-Atlantic region demonstrating the effectiveness of green infrastructure, such as water catchment systems. The results from this research are applicable across the country, however, as they explore the benefitis of urban stormwater and changes to urban landscapes. The list of studies is available here.

This report makes the case for green infrastructure benefiting public health and national prosperity, while also outlining the various political and professional hurdles that need to be overcome in order to implement new systems. A summary and the full report are available here.

This report provides a collection of planning, funding, regulatory, and investment efforts currently underway across the country by local and state governments to promote climate resilience. The full paper is available here.

The Army Corps provides detailed sea-level rise scenarios, storm-surge models, and infrastructure exposure indices. The report contains state-specific appendices as well. The report and summary can be accessed here


Download the comprehensive NCEL Climate Adaptation White Paper with resources and background information for state legislators here. Additionally, select subsections can be accessed below: 

  1. Aquatic Ecosystems and Wildlife
  2. Infrastructure
  3. Terrestrial Ecosystems and Wildlife 
  4. Tourism & Outdoor Recreation

This resource, created by the Georgetown Climate Center, details what states are doing to prepare for the impacts of climate change impacts. The website provides detail on the state plans, progress towards their goals, and the laws or policies implemented to support adaptation projects. The website is available here

This database is maintained by the Georgetown Climate Center and provides information on policies related to climate law and governance, sea-level rise, urban heat and transportation. The site also includes resources specifically aimed at policymakers seeking to incorporate climate adaptation into state plans. The full clearinghouse is available here

EPA created a cost-benefit analysis that demonstrates the benefits of green infrastructure. The case study looks at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, although the results are applicable to the many cities across the country currently implementing green infrastructure programs. The full case study is available here

Climate Central has created an interactive map and sea level rise analysis to offers flooding scenarios for cities and regions across the country based on different carbon reduction scenarios. The map and website are available here.

Wildlife corridors and wildlife crossings can be a simple and essential component of adaptation to climatechange. Wildlife corridors protect not only wildlife, but plants, water sources, soil, forest cover and habitat. Wildlife crossings pay for themselves in reduced risk to human safety from vehicle collisions, and they provide critical movement and migration paths for animals and plants. Examples of state legislation and other resources are available here

Mature trees and the urban tree canopy are at risk from climate change. The Georgetown Climate Center produced an Urban Heat Toolkit to help local governments identify strategies for adapting to increased temperatures in urban environments – Chapter 5 starting at p. 44 is on Urban Forestry and the toolkit can be found here.

Aging water systems in the U.S. are becoming more expensive due to extreme weather events and rising populations. This publication offers guidance on the economics, science and other mechanisms involved with implementing integrated water use systems that are cost effective and sustainable. The full paper can be accessed here


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