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State and Local Climate and Energy Program

Impacts & Adaptation


According to the 2009 U.S. Global Change Research Program report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, climatic changes are already affecting water, energy, transportation, agriculture, ecosystems, and health.

Climate–related impacts vary across regions and will grow under projected climate change. While all U.S. regions are expected to experience temperature increases, some are expected to warm more than others and with seasonal variation; projected warming is greatest in winter at high latitudes and greatest in the summer in the southwestern U.S. Associated changes in precipitation, winds, and other key climatic variables also will vary. For example, annual mean precipitation is projected to decrease in the southwestern U.S. but increase over the rest of North America.

Benefits of Adaptation

While some climate change impacts are more broad-reaching, no two communities experience climate change in precisely the same way. Local governments are uniquely positioned to implement strategic adaptive measures to protect infrastructure, plan for sea-level rise, and increase their community's resiliency to extreme weather.

Adaptation also can have secondary benefits, such as improving air quality and consequently lowering risks to human health. In some cases, adaptive measures can provide economic benefits and opportunities for growth within communities.

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Adaptation Planning

Many cities have developed local adaption plans, several states have developed or are developing state adaption plans, and regional adaptation efforts also are expanding.

Adaptation actions currently tend to fall into six main categories, although the scope of planned adaptation efforts is likely to continue to expand as the climate continues to change:

  • Agriculture and Forestry
  • Coastal Protection
  • Ecosystems
  • Energy and Infrastructure
  • Human Health
  • Water Resources

Examples of adaptation actions include:

  • Implementing measures to reduce the effects of urban heat islands
  • Developing heat wave response programs due to the likelihood of increased frequency and magnitude of heat waves
  • Protecting estuaries from the impacts of climate change
  • Anticipating changes in storm water runoff needs due to the likelihood of increased frequency and severity of heavy rain events
  • Planning for wastewater treatment impacts due to sea level rise

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Local Adaptation Plans

Increasing numbers of localities and regions are anticipating the need to adapt to climate change. The Pew Center publishes a comprehensive and regularly updated report, Adaptation Planning: What U.S. States and Localities are Doing Exit EPA disclaimer, which reflects the continually growing adaptation efforts across the country.

Examples of local adaptation plans include:

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Adaptation Guidebook

Preparing for Climate Change: A Guidebook for Local, Regional and State Governments Exit EPA disclaimer (186 pp, 5.6M), published by ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability (2007), is a framework that communities can use to prepare for and adapt to regional climate changes. The guidebook is designed to take the mystery out of planning for climate impacts by specifying the practical steps and strategies that can be put into place now to build community resilience into the future.

Adaptation Planning for Estuaries

EPA's Climate Ready Estuaries program published this adaptation planning guide (PDF) (19 pp, 536K), which describes five critical elements of adaptation planning, provides examples of these elements, and suggests additional resources.

Climate Ready Estuaries

The Climate Ready Estuaries program at EPA works with the National Estuary Programs and other coastal managers to 1) assesses climate change vulnerabilities, 2) develop and implement adaptation strategies, 3) engage and educate stakeholders, and 4) share the lessons learned with other coastal managers.

Climate Ready Water Utilities

The Climate Ready Water Utilities program at EPA provides tools, training, and technical assistance for the water sector to develop and implement long-range plans that account for climate change impacts.

Excessive Heat Events Guidebook

Designed to help community officials, emergency managers, meteorologists, and others plan for and respond to excessive heat events, the Excessive Heat Events Guidebook highlights best practices that have been employed to save lives during excessive heat events in different urban areas and provides a menu of options that officials can use to respond to these events in their communities.

Heat Island Compendium

Reducing Urban Heat Islands: Compendium of Strategies describes mitigation measures that communities can take to address the negative impacts of urban heat islands. The compendium includes six sections: Urban Heat Island Basics, Trees and Vegetation, Green Roofs, Cool Roofs, Cool Pavements, and Heat Island Reduction Activities.

National Water Program Strategy: Response to Climate Change

This EPA strategy provides an overview of the likely effects of climate change on water resources and the nation's clean water and safe drinking water programs. The paper also describes over 40 specific actions the National Water Program intends to take to adapt program implementation in light of climate change.

Review of Adaptation Options

The U.S. Climate Change Science Program and U.S. Global Change Research Program published a Preliminary Review of Adaptation Options for Climate-Sensitive Ecosystems and Resources for federally managed ecosystems.

Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities

In partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Rhode Island Sea Grant, and the International City/County Management Association, EPA has released Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities, a guide builds that offers 10 specific development guidelines for coastal and waterfront communities.

Synthesis and Assessment Products

The U.S. Climate Change Science Program's series of 21 Synthesis and Assessment Products (SAPs) integrate research results focused on important science issues and aim to support informed discussion and decision making regarding climate change by policy makers, resource managers, stakeholders, the media, and the general public.

U.S. Global Change Research Program

The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) coordinates and integrates federal research on changes in the global environment and their implications for society. USGCRP provides brochures and factsheets highlighting key regional impacts and issues.

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Climate Change Community Toolbox

The Climate Change Community Toolbox Exit EPA disclaimer, published by the South Florida Regional Planning Council, is designed to help decision-makers understand how to carry out adaptation planning, how to conduct analyses of specific sectors and issue areas as the basis for focused response strategies and actions, and presents examples of adaptation planning options. The Toolbox is expected to assist communities to translate concern about global climate change into sound planning, policy and action.

Climate Ready Estuaries Coastal Toolkit

EPA's Climate Ready Estuaries program created its Toolkit to provide resources for estuaries and coastal programs that are interested in learning more about climate change impacts and adaptation.

Climate Resilience Evaluation and Awareness Tool (CREAT)

EPA has developed CREAT to assist drinking water and wastewater utility owners and operators in understanding potential climate change threats and in assessing the related risks at their individual utilities. CREAT provides users with access to the most recent national assessment of climate change impacts for use in considering how these changes will impact utility operations and missions. CREAT allows users to evaluate adaptation options to address these impacts using both traditional risk assessment and scenario-based decision making.

Habitat Priority Planner

The Coastal Services Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration developed this tool to aid in making decisions about habitat conservation, restoration, and land use planning. The Habitat Priority Planner takes away much of the subjective nature of the process by providing a means of obtaining critical habitat analyses that are consistent, repeatable, and transparent.

Risk and Vulnerability Assessment Tool

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coastal Services Center developed the Risk and Vulnerability Assessment Tool to help identify people, property, and resources that are at risk of injury, damage, or loss from hazardous incidents or natural hazards. This information is important to help determine and prioritize the precautionary measures that can make a community more disaster-resistant.

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