Original Article

Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change

, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 361-406

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

A comprehensive review of climate adaptation in the United States: more than before, but less than needed

  • Rosina BierbaumAffiliated withSchool of Natural Resources and Environment, and School of Public Health, University of Michigan Email author 
  • , Joel B. SmithAffiliated withStratus Consulting
  • , Arthur LeeAffiliated withChevron Services Company
  • , Maria BlairAffiliated withAmerican Cancer Society
  • , Lynne CarterAffiliated withLouisiana State University
  • , F. Stuart ChapinIIIAffiliated withUniversity of Alaska Fairbanks
  • , Paul FlemingAffiliated withSeattle Public Utilities
  • , Susan RuffoAffiliated withThe Nature Conservancy
  • , Missy StultsAffiliated withUniversity of Michigan
    • , Shannon McNeeleyAffiliated withColorado State University
    • , Emily WasleyAffiliated withUniversity Corporation for Atmospheric Research/U.S. Global Change Research Program
    • , Laura VerduzcoAffiliated withChevron Energy Technology Company


We reviewed existing and planned adaptation activities of federal, tribal, state, and local governments and the private sector in the United States (U.S.) to understand what types of adaptation activities are underway across different sectors and scales throughout the country. Primary sources of review included material officially submitted for consideration in the upcoming 2013 U.S. National Climate Assessment and supplemental peer-reviewed and grey literature. Although substantial adaptation planning is occurring in various sectors, levels of government, and the private sector, few measures have been implemented and even fewer have been evaluated. Most adaptation actions to date appear to be incremental changes, not the transformational changes that may be needed in certain cases to adapt to significant changes in climate. While there appear to be no one-size-fits-all adaptations, there are similarities in approaches across scales and sectors, including mainstreaming climate considerations into existing policies and plans, and pursuing no- and low-regrets strategies. Despite the positive momentum in recent years, barriers to implementation still impede action in all sectors and across scales. The most significant barriers include lack of funding, policy and institutional constraints, and difficulty in anticipating climate change given the current state of information on change. However, the practice of adaptation can advance through learning by doing, stakeholder engagements (including “listening sessions”), and sharing of best practices. Efforts to advance adaptation across the U.S. and globally will necessitate the reduction or elimination of barriers, the enhancement of information and best practice sharing mechanisms, and the creation of comprehensive adaptation evaluation metrics.


Adaptation process Barriers Climate change Mainstreaming Multiple stressors Stakeholder participation Successes Case studies