Looking under the hood of local adaptation plans: shedding light on the actions prioritized to build local resilience to climate change

  • Missy StultsEmail author
  • Sierra C. Woodruff
Original Article


In the face of a changing climate, many United States (US) local governments are creating plans to prepare. These plans layout how a community is vulnerable to existing and future changes in climate as well as what actions they propose taking to prepare. The actions included in these plans provide insight into what local governments feel they have the ability to undertake, as well as what actions they believe are important to building resilience. To date, little to no analysis has been conducted on the content of these plans, leaving researchers, practitioners, and those supporting communities with limited understanding of what gaps need to be filled or how best to support locally prioritized climate action. This paper analyzes the content of 43 stand alone climate adaptation plans from US local communities to identify the types of actions proposed and how those actions compare to what researchers indicate the communities should be prioritizing based on regional climate projections. The results indicate that local communities include numerous and varied actions in their adaptation plans and that the majority of communities are selecting actions that are theoretically appropriate given projected changes in regional climate. Yet some types of actions, such as building codes and advocacy, are not being widely used. These results contrast with previous studies, which found that local communities focus primarily on capacity building approaches. Findings also demonstrate that plans rarely contain significant details about how actions will be implemented, raising questions about whether plans will translate into real-world projects.


Adaptation Local government Planning Strategies Action Resilience Community 



We would like to thank the members of our dissertation committees—T. BenDor (UNC), P. Berke (TAMU), R. Bierbaum (UM), L. Hoey (UM), P. Jagger (UNC), L. Larsen (UM), M. Lemos (UM), L. Moore (UNC), and G. Smith (UNC)—who provided support for our research and reviewed our drafts. We would also like to thank Julie Steiff for her copy editing support.

Compliance with ethical standards

Funding source

Partial financial support for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Natural Resources and Environment, The University of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Curriculum for the Environment and EcologyUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA

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