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


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.

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  1. All of types of adaptation action identified by Biagini were used in our analysis, with the exception of warning or observing systems. In addition, we added advocacy, building codes and engineering design standards, energy conservation, funding, land use, research and monitoring, water conservation, and greenhouse gas mitigation. This took the total number of action types coded for in this paper to 17.

  2. Data from this analysis can be found at


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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.

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Correspondence to Missy Stults.

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


Appendix 1: Initial metrics included by the authors in the first phase of coding within the “strategies” principle

This table summarizes all of the criteria included by the authors within the strategies principle. Column one lists the names of the individual criteria. All criteria are grouped into two categories: those that are specific types of adaptation strategies and those that help justify the need for adaptation strategy implementation. Column two briefly describes each criterion, and column three presents the percentage of plans within our sample that included the criterion.



Percent plans (%)

Type of adaptation strategy proposed

 Capacity building

The plan includes capacity building strategies. Capacity building is developing human resources, institutions, and communities, equipping them with the capability to adapt.



The plan includes advocacy strategies. Advocacy includes encouraging regional and state agencies to have adaptation-appropriate strategies.


 General strategies

The plan includes generic adaptation strategies, which are strategies not specific enough to be classified in another category.


 Information and awareness

The plan includes information and awareness strategies, which are strategies focused on increasing public knowledge.


 Research and monitoring

The plan includes research or monitoring strategies, which are those that focus on gathering information and creating reports, maps, or models; monitoring includes observation or repeated measurements over time.



The plan includes planning-related strategies, which include strategies that incorporate understanding of climate science, impacts, vulnerability, and risk into government and institutional planning process, efforts, or existing initiatives.


 Practice and behavior

The plan includes strategies to change practice and behavior. Practice and behavior strategies revise or expand practices and on-the-ground behavior that affect resilience.


 Policy and legislation

The plan includes policy and legislation strategies aimed at preparing for climate change.


 Physical infrastructure

The plan includes physical infrastructure strategies to prepare for climate change.


 Building codes and engineering design standards

The plan includes strategies to improve physical infrastructure’s response to changing climate through improved standards or engineering.


 Green infrastructure

The plan includes green infrastructure strategies aimed at providing protection from climate hazards.


 Land use

The plan includes land use strategies focused on preparing for climate change.



The plan includes conservation strategies to preserve biodiversity and protect open space under a changing climate.



The plan includes financing or insurance strategies to prepare for future climate changes.



The plan includes technology strategies.


Justification for the adaptation strategies

 Prioritized actions

The plan prioritizes adaptation strategies.


 Prioritized strategies detailed

The plan prioritizes adaptation strategies and describes how strategies were ranked.


 Specific adaptation strategies

The plan includes strategies that are linked to specific impacts.



The plan estimates the cost of implementing specific adaptation actions.


 Cost detailed

The plan identifies the cost of implementing each adaptation strategy.


 Cost of inaction

The plan states that taking action to adapt to climate change costs less than not acting.


 Cost of inaction detailed

The plan provides specific dollar figures on the cost of inaction versus adaptation.



The plan identifies co-benefits associated with taking adaptation action.


Appendix 2: Initial metrics included by the authors in the first phase of coding within the “implementation and monitoring” principle

This table summarizes all of the criteria included by the authors within the implementation and monitoring principle. Criteria are grouped into two categories: those that support implementation and those that support monitoring. Column one lists the names of the individual criteria, column two briefly describes each criterion, and column three presents the percentage of plans within our sample that included the criterion.



% plans

Implementation metrics

 Timetable for implementation

Provides a timetable for when each action will be implemented


 Implementation responsibilities

Assigns responsibility for policies broadly to organizations or agencies


 Implementation responsibilities detailed

Assigns responsibility for the implementation of each strategy


 Funding (need for)

Describes the need for funding sources to implement the plan


 Potential funding sources detailed

Clearly describes potential funding sources and associates them with particular strategies



Discusses mainstreaming climate change adaptation, mainstreaming refers to the integration of climate adaptation into other sector policies or plans


 Mainstreaming detailed

Identifies specific plans and programs as opportunities for mainstreaming, mainstreaming refers to the integration of climate adaptation into other sector policies or plans



Mentions barriers to climate adaptation


Monitoring metrics

 Reporting requirements

Includes requirements for the regular reporting of implementation progress


 Monitoring responsibility

Mentions assignment of responsibility for monitoring


 Evaluation method

Establishes a process to evaluate the plan


 Evaluation method detailed

Describes when analyses of progress toward objectives will take place and how results will be used


 Evaluation metrics

Mentions how to measure progress towards implementing strategies


 Evaluation metrics detailed

Mentions how to measure progress towards implementing each strategy identified in the plan


 Plan updates

Mentions need for updates


 Plan updates detailed

Includes timetable for updating plan


Appendix 3: List of plans included in our analysis

List of communities with an adaptation plan (left column) and name of the plan (right column) included in our analysis.


Plan title

Albany, NY

Albany Climate Change: Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Plan

Anne Arundel County MD

Sea Level Rise Strategic Plan: Anne Arundel County

Austin, TX

Toward a Climate-Resilient Austin

Baltimore, MD

Disaster Preparedness and Planning Project: Combined All Hazards Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan

Boston, MA

Climate Ready Boston: Municipal Vulnerability to Climate Change

Boulder County, CO

Boulder County Climate Change Preparedness Plan

Chester, PA

The City of Chester Vision 2020: Climate Adaptation Planning Elements

Chula Vista, CA

Climate Adaptation Strategies: Implementation Plans

City and County of Denver, CO

City and County of Denver Climate Adaptation Plan

Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, MT

Climate Change Strategic Plan

Dane County, WI

Climate Change and Emergency Preparedness

Dorchester County, MD

Sea Level Rise: Technical Guidance for Dorchester County

Durham, NH

Climate Adaptation Chapter: Developing Strategies to Protect Areas at Risk from Flooding due to Climate Change and Sea Level Rise

Fairbanks North Star Borough, AK

Interior Issues Council Climate Change Task Force: Preliminary Vulnerability Assessment Report

Flagstaff, AZ

City of Flagstaff Resiliency and Preparedness Study

Fresno County, CA

Integrated Strategies for a Vibrant and Sustainable Fresno County

Grand Rapids, MI

Grand Rapids Climate Resiliency Report

Groton, CT

Preparing for Climate Change in Groton, Connecticut: A Model Process for Communities in the Northeast

Guilford, CT

Town of Guilford Community Coastal Resilience Plan

Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, WA

Climate Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Plan

Keene, NH

Adapting to Climate Change: Planning a Climate Resilient Community

Lafourche Parish, LA

The Lafourche Parish Comprehensive Resiliency Plan

Laguna Woods, CA

Climate Adaptation Plan

Lee County, FL

Lee County Climate Change Resiliency Strategy

Lewes, DE

The City of Lewes Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Action Plan

Los Angeles, CA

Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Study for the City of Los Angeles

Marquette, MI

Adapting to Climate Change and Variability

Miami-Dade County, FL

Second Report and Initial Recommendations: Presented to The Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners

Milwaukee, WI

Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts: Milwaukee Working Group Report

Missoula County, MT

Missoula County Climate Action: Creating a Resilient and Sustainable Community

New York City, NY

A Stronger, More Resilient New York

Oakland, CA

Community Based Climate Adaptation Planning: Case Study of Oakland, California

Portsmouth, NH

City of Portsmouth, New Hampshire’s Coastal Resilience Initiative Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Plan

Punta Gorda, FL

City of Punta Gorda Adaptation Plan

Salem, MA

Ready for Tomorrow: The City of Salem Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Plan

San Luis Obispo (county), CA

Integrated Climate Change Adaptation Planning in San Luis Obispo County

Santa Barbara, CA

City of Santa Barbara Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Study

Santa Cruz (city), CA

City of Santa Cruz Climate Adaptation Plan: An Update to the 2007 Local Hazard Mitigation Plan 2012-2017

Seabrook, NH

Adaptation Strategies to Protect Areas of Increased Risk From Coastal Flooding Due to Climate Change

Somerset County, MD

Somerset County, Maryland: Rising Sea Level Guidance

Swinomish Tribe, WA

Swinomish Climate Change Initiative Climate Adaptation Action Plan

Waveland, MS

City of Waveland Local Hazard Mitigation Plan

Worcester County, MD

Sea Level Rise Response Strategy: Worcester County, Maryland

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Stults, M., Woodruff, S.C. Looking under the hood of local adaptation plans: shedding light on the actions prioritized to build local resilience to climate change. Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Change 22, 1249–1279 (2017).

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