Implementation of Maryland’s Climate Action Plan

Kirsten Feifel
Posted on: 12/19/2010 - Updated on: 10/28/2021

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Kirsten Feifel

Project Summary

In 2007, the Governor of Maryland signed an Executive Order that created the Commission on Climate Change, which was tasked to develop a comprehensive Climate Action Plan for the state. In 2008, the final report was released and implementation began. The Department of Natural Resources was the lead agency in the development and implementation of the Climate Action Plan, particularly in regards to adaptation. Initiatives include reducing shoreline hardening, assisting local governments to develop adaptation strategies, conducting public outreach, and using technology to update maps and land acquisition priorities.  


Maryland has historically been a progressive leader in planning for the effects of climate change as evidenced by a 2000 report, A Sea Level Rise Response Strategy for the State of Maryland. When then Governor Martin O’Malley signed the Executive Order that created the Maryland Commission on Climate Change (MCCC), many state agencies were already incorporating climate change into their work, easing the transition into the creation of a Climate Action Plan. The MCCC comprises four working groups focused on Mitigation; Adaptation and Resiliency; Education, Communication, and Outreach; and Scientific and Technical topics. In 2007, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources was selected to chair the Adaptation and Resiliency Work Group. The group produced two adaptation reports: 2008’s Comprehensive Strategy for Reducing Maryland’s Vulnerability to Climate Change: Phase I: Sea-level rise and coastal storms (Chapter Five of the Climate Action Plan) and 2011’s Comprehensive Strategy for Reducing Maryland’s Vulnerability to Climate Change: Phase II: Building societal, economic, and ecological resilience. The Climate Action Plan was funded through the state government and continues to be financed by the legislature.


The Phase I report detailed Maryland’s acute vulnerability to rising sea levels and proposed 19 policies that would enhance the state’s resilience to climate change. Each policy was outlined in detail with a subsequent implementation proposal. Notable strategies and recommendations include:

  • Incorporating the projected effects of climate change into current state and local policies and develop and implement long-range planning;
  • Developing a comprehensive adaptation plan for vulnerable infrastructure;
  • Assessing and strengthening building codes to reduce infrastructure damage in the future;
  • Reconsidering the role of insurance in vulnerable areas and develop a “sea level rise disclosure” statement for coastal properties;
  • Researching and preparing for changes in human health risks;
  • Strategically utilizing and restoring natural resources to enhance ecological resilience;
  • Providing up to date research on the impacts of climate change to managers; and
  • Developing and implementing performance measures of successful adaptation.

The Phase II report addressed the potential effects of climate change on the state’s natural resources, agriculture, water resources, public health, and infrastructure. Example priority recommendations include:

  • Conducting vulnerability assessments to better understand climate change-related risks and potential adaptation options;
  • Increasing crop diversity and vector management;
  • Improving land acquisition, protection, and restoration measures;
  • Reducing existing stresses such as barriers to species migration and impervious surface cover; and
  • Mainstreaming the consideration of climate change impacts in local and state policies and programs.

In 2012, Governor Martin O’Malley released Executive Order 01.01.2012.29 Climate Change and “Coast Smart” Construction, calling for state agencies to address coastal flooding and sea level rise in both the siting and design of all state capital infrastructure projects. DNR released a complementary guide to support the implementation of the order in January 2014. Guidelines for Coast Smart construction include:

  • Avoid building in areas likely to be inundated by sea level rise or within Special Flood Hazard Areas;
  • Protect and maintain ecological features that buffer infrastructure from coastal hazards;
  • Design new and retrofit existing structures to be a minimum of two feet of freeboard above the 100-year base flood elevation; and
  • Consider flooding potential in the selection of building materials.

The Coast Smart program became effective in July 2015 and is overseen by the Maryland Coast Smart Council.

Outcomes and Conclusions

In 2015, Governor Larry Hogan signed the Commission on Climate Change Act, formally requiring the MCCC to report annually on state efforts to advance climate mitigation and adaptation action. Progress to date includes:

  • Passage of a “living shorelines act” to reduce hardened shorelines;
  • Amended critical area programs to extend jurisdictional boundaries, update boundaries based upon current wetland locations, and increase buffers from 100 to 200 ft.;
  • Development of the “Coast-Smart Communities” initiative, a competitive grant process to assist local governments in planning for the impacts of climate change, pioneered a role-playing simulation so stakeholders develop an understanding of the complexities associated with climate change adaptation;
  • Creation of a Maryland Climate Change Insurance Advisory Committee;
  • Development of the 2019 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act, calling for a 44% reduction in emissions by 2030;
  • Participation in the U.S. Climate Alliance, a collaboration between states seeking to take climate action; and
  • Development of the Maryland Climate Leadership Academy to train local government staff to be climate leaders.

The key to Maryland’s success has been the knowledge base that has been built over the past few decades. Research programs have been targeted to support and build off of one another as new results are returned. Maryland also has dedicated, long-term staff who continually remind leadership of the potential effects of climate change, renewing the motivation to promote climate change adaptation. Priorities for the Adaptation and Resiliency Work Group include developing indicators to track progress; updating the adaptation strategy by developing a Phase III report focused on water resources, natural and working lands, critical infrastructure, natural resources, human health, and local and state government action and collaboration; and refining the use of sea level rise projections and mapping of vulnerable areas in decision-making processes.


Feifel, K & R.M. Gregg (2021). Implementation of Maryland's Climate Action Plan [Case study on a project of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt’s State of Adaptation Program. (Last updated July 2021)

Project Contacts

Position: DNR Program Manager for Climate Policy and Planning

Affiliated Organizations

The Department of Natural Resources leads Maryland in securing a sustainable future for our environment, society, and economy by preserving, protecting, restoring, and enhancing the State’s natural resources.

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