Climate Change Adaptation Planning at the State Level in Pennsylvania

Rachel M. Gregg
Posted on: 5/31/2013 - Updated on: 2/24/2022

Posted by

Rachel Gregg

Project Summary

Pennsylvania has taken a number of steps to address the effects of climate change on the state’s natural and built environments. In addition to the creation of an advisory committee to guide climate change action, Pennsylvania has conducted a statewide impacts assessment and completed a climate action plan. These activities have formed the basis for adaptation strategies to be developed and implemented to varying degrees of success thus far.


Climate change is already happening in Pennsylvania and impacts are projected to continue and worsen; these include increases in temperatures, precipitation variability, flooding, and storm events. The state’s 2008 Climate Change Act mandated the creation of a Climate Change Advisory Committee (CCAC), an impacts assessment, and a climate action plan.

The CCAC, responsible for implementing the provisions of the Climate Change Act, comprises five sub-committees representing Electricity Generation, Transmission, and Distribution; Industry and Waste; Residential and Commercial; Land Use and Transportation; and Agriculture and Forestry. Members serve four-year terms and may be appointed by the state Governor, Senate, and House of Representatives.

The Department of Environmental Protection commissioned an impacts assessment that was released in 2009 (Shortle et al. 2009). The report examines likely effects on water resources, forests, wildlife, fisheries, aquatic habitats, agriculture, energy, human health, tourism and recreation, and the economy. This report informed the preparation of the Pennsylvania Climate Change Action Plan; the plan was released in December 2009 and by law must be updated every three years. The recommended target of the plan is a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2000 levels by 2020; in order to achieve this target, the plan includes over 50 specific mitigation recommendations. In addition, the plan calls for the development of climate change adaptation measures to be developed and implemented concurrently with mitigation actions.


These activities led the CCAC to commission the development of an adaptation planning report. The CCAC created four sector-specific working groups in 2010 to develop adaptation strategies; each group – Infrastructure, Public Health and Safety, Natural Resources, and Tourism and Outdoor Recreation – was led by two to three co-chairs representing government and non-governmental interests. These groups identified potential impacts to and vulnerabilities of each sector and developed recommendations for adaptation action. Examples of recommendations include to:

  • Implement integrated water resource management
  • Encourage water conservation and efficiency
  • Enhance data collection and dissemination
  • Integrate climate change into existing policies and plans
  • Implement monitoring of climate change impacts and evaluation of management actions
  • Increase climate change education and outreach
  • Implement green infrastructure techniques
  • Include climate change adaptation criteria in grant programs

The working group reports were combined into the Pennsylvania Climate Adaptation Planning Report: Risks and Practical Recommendations, released in 2011.

Outcomes and Conclusions

The recommendations from the Climate Adaptation Planning Report will be incorporated into the next version of the Climate Change Action Plan. Other natural resource-focused adaptation activities have also occurred or are in progress in the state. For example,

  • In 2009, staff from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), Pennsylvania Game Commission, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, and The Nature Conservancy conducted interviews with representatives from local, state, and federal agencies and non-governmental organizations about climate change adaptation. The results of these interviews, including perspectives and recommendations on how climate change adaptation strategies could be developed and implemented in the state, were synthesized in the report Weathering Climate Change: Framing Strategies to Minimize Impacts on Pennsylvania Ecosystems and Wildlife.
  • The Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program, a partnership of the DCNR, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, and Pennsylvania Game Commission, worked on a project to assess the vulnerability of different species in the state to climate change. This project was funded by the DCNR’s Wild Resource Conservation Program. Using the NatureServe Climate Change Vulnerability Index, staff assessed the vulnerability of 85 species by considering effects on dispersal ability, genetic variation, and habitat vulnerability, among others. The final report concluded that climate change will have both negative, positive, and neutral effects on different species in the state, and that more extensive assessments on a larger quantity of species are needed (Furedi et al. 2011).
  • Along with other U.S. states, Pennsylvania is working to incorporate climate change into its State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP). The 2005 version of the plan acknowledged climate change as an issue of concern for wildlife and habitats in the region but did not specifically provide any action items. A 2009 amendment to the plan specifically addresses climate change and its effects on wildlife management in the state (Pennsylvania Game Commission and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission 2009). The amendment includes a discussion of impacts, conservation and management implications, and potential adaptation strategies. Strategies mentioned include reducing non-climate stressors, protecting biodiversity and ecological function, maintaining/restoring natural habitats and connectivity, and applying adaptive management practices. More research on climate change and its effects on the state’s species and habitats, along with adaptation strategies, will be incorporated into the updated SWAP, expected in 2015.


Gregg, R. M. (2012). Climate Change Adaptation Planning at the State Level in Pennsylvania [Case study on a project of the Pennsylvania Departments of Environmental Protection and Conservation and Natural Resources]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE:… (Last updated October 2012)

Project Contact

Joseph Sherrick
[email protected]

Project Contacts

Affiliated Organizations

DEP is largely responsible for administering Pennsylvania's environmental laws and regulations.  

The Department of Environmental Protection's mission is to protect Pennsylvania's air, land and water from pollution and to provide for the health and safety of its citizens through a cleaner environment. We will work as partners with individuals, organizations, governments and businesses to prevent pollution and restore our natural resources.

Established on July 1, 1995, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is charged with maintaining and preserving the 120 state parks; managing the 2.2 million acres of state forest land; providing information on the state's ecological and geologic resources; and establishing community conservation partnerships with grants and technical assistance to benefit rivers, trails, greenways, local parks and recreation, regional heritage parks, open space and natural areas.