A Framework for Climate Change Adaptation in Hawaii

Jessi Kershner
Posted on: 12/10/2010 - Updated on: 11/16/2021

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Jessi Kershner

Project Summary

The Hawai‘i Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Program is responsible for the sustainable management, use, and development of the islands’ coastlines. In 2009, as part of a regional effort to advance climate adaptation, the Hawai‘i Ocean Resources Management Plan (ORMP) Working Group and the University of Hawai‘i’s Center for Island Climate Adaptation and Policy, developed A Framework for Climate Change Adaptation in Hawaii to provide guidelines on how the state could embrace climate adaptation measures.


The Hawai‘i ORMP is an integrated, place-based approach to natural and cultural resource management. Charged with coordinating meaningful interagency and multi-sectoral engagement for plan implementation, the CZM Program coordinates partners including the federal, state, and county resource management agencies (e.g., National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Navy; Department of Land and Natural Resources, Office of Hawaiian Affairs; Counties of Kaua‘i, Honolulu, Maui, Hawai‘i), the University of Hawai‘i (UH), the Marine and Coastal Zone Advocacy Council, and nongovernmental entities (e.g., The Nature Conservancy, Bishop Museum). Key climate vulnerabilities of concern to coastal areas in the Hawaiian Islands include shoreline erosion, exposure to coastal hazards, sea level rise, ocean acidification, availability of freshwater, and increased frequency and severity of storms.

During the development of the 2006 ORMP, the Working Group realized that there were no guidelines on how the state could plan for adaptation. To facilitate this process, the ORMP Working Group proposed A Framework for Climate Change Adaptation in Hawaii, intended to help the state develop plans and make informed decisions on climate change adaptation.


In November 2009, the ORMP Working Group developed the framework, which promotes an open and collaborative adaptation planning process intended to remain flexible in a changing environment, economy, and society. The proposed framework included:

  1. Building a climate change adaptation team;
  2. Developing and adopting a long-term vision;
  3. Identifying planning areas and opportunities relevant to climate change;
  4. Scoping climate change impacts to major sectors;
  5. Conducting a vulnerability assessment; and
  6. Conducting a risk assessment.

Outcomes and Conclusions

Since A Framework for Climate Change Adaptation in Hawaii was released in 2009, several adaptation actions have been taken in the state. For example:

  • The ORMP was updated in 2013 and identifies several actions relevant to climate change, such as managed retreat and relocation, natural shoreline buffers, targeted research, and climate education and outreach. The ORMP Dashboard tracks the implementation of each of the plan’s 11 management priorities.
  • The Hawai‘i Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission (formerly the Interagency Climate Adaptation Committee) was formed by Act 32, which recognized that climate change is a priority challenge for the “economy, sustainability, security, and way of life” of the Hawaiian Islands. The Commission is chaired by the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Office of Planning, and has established mitigation and adaptation goals for the state. One key activity was conducting a sea level rise vulnerability assessment and adaptation planning project for the state. Released in 2017, the report identifies areas of acute vulnerability to sea level rise and erosion on each of the islands, and provides recommendations for adaptation options, such as limiting development within vulnerable sites, protecting water quality, and incentivizing resilience. The sea level rise assessment is intended to be updated every five years with up-to-date climate and adaptation science.
  • The CZM Program released a report on managed retreat—Assessing the Feasibility and Implications of Managed Retreat Strategies for Vulnerable Coastal Areas in Hawaii in 2019. The report reviews retreat programs from other states and evaluates their potential replication in the Hawaiian Islands. Common needs across all retreat examples include significant and sustained funding, community buy-in, and flexible state and local land use policies.
  • In 2019, the state hosted its first annual climate conference—Hā O ke Kai (“Breath of the Sea”). The conference is sponsored by the State of Hawai‘i, Department of Land and Natural Resources, Office of Planning, East-West Center, Ulupono Initiative, Hawai‘i Sea Grant, UH, Hawai‘i CZM, and the Pacific Islands Climate Adaptation Science Center.


Kershner, J. (2020). A Framework for Climate Change Adaptation in Hawai‘i [Case study on a project of the Center for Island Climate Adaptation and Policy and Hawai‘i Coastal Zone Management Program]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt’s State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: https://www.cakex.org/case-studies/framework-climate-change-adaptation-hawaii (Last updated December 2010)

Project Links

Project Documents

State of Hawaii Act 32.pdf

Project Contacts

Affiliated Organizations

The Hawaii CZM Program focuses its work on the complex resource management problems of coastal areas in the part of the State that is under the highest stress. Within a framework of cooperation among federal, state, and local levels, the Hawaii CZM Program employs a wide variety of regulatory and non-regulatory techniques to address coastal issues and uphold environmental law.

The Center for Island Climate Adaptation and Policy (ICAP) facilitates a sustainable, climate-conscious future for Hawaiʻi, the Pacific, and global island communities.  ICAP produces innovative, interdisciplinary research and solutions to island decision-makers in the public and private sectors.  As a focal point for University of Hawaiʻi (UH) climate expertise, ICAP serves as a two-way conduit between the university and island communities to catalyze climate change adaptation and resiliency.

An Interdisciplinary Endeavor

Related Resources

Adaptation Phase
Sharing Lessons
Sector Addressed
Climate Justice
Conservation / Restoration
Culture / Communities
Disaster Risk Management
Education / Outreach
Land Use Planning
Rural / Indigenous Livelihoods
Transportation / Infrastructure
Water Resources
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