The State of Climate-­Informed Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning

Coastal and marine spatial planning (CMSP) is a science-based, collaborative process used to sustainably manage resources, interests, and activities among diverse coastal and ocean users and sectors. Climate change is affecting marine and coastal ecosystems throughout the world, manifesting in warming air and sea temperatures, increasing coastal storms, and rising sea levels. The existing and projected impacts of climate change and ocean acidification need to be incorporated into planning processes to ensure long-term success. Because CMSP is an emerging field, it is important to look to other coastal and marine planning and management frameworks to identify opportunities for climate-informed action.

With the support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, EcoAdapt created the Climate-Informed CMSP Initiative to examine the connections between climate change and coastal and marine planning. This included conducting a needs assessment survey to identify what practitioners need in order to integrate climate change into their planning efforts, as well as research into the state of climate-informed CMSP efforts with the intention of identifying case study examples of adaptation in action. Our key research questions included:

  1. How is climate change currently being integrated into CMSP-related efforts?
  2. How can climate-informed CMSP be done?
  3. What do practitioners need in order to integrate climate change into CMSP?

Polar Bear - WWF Wildlife and Climate Change Series

Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) are the poster child for the impacts of climate change on species, and justifiably so. To date, global warming has been most pronounced in the Arctic, and this trend is projected to continue. There are suggestions that before mid-century we could have a nearly ice-free Arctic in the summer. This increases the urgency with which we must act to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to delay or avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change.

Polar bears have relatively high genetic diversity within the species and can disperse over very long distances, suggesting that they may have some capacity to adapt to the ongoing changes in the Arctic.

However, their dependence on sea ice makes them highly vulnerable to a changing climate. Polar bears rely heavily on the sea ice environment for traveling, hunting, mating, resting, and in some areas, maternal dens. In particular, they depend heavily on sea ice-dependent prey, such as ringed and bearded seals. Additionally, their long generation time and low reproductive rate may limit their ability to adapt to changes in the environment.

Priorities for climate-informed polar bear conservation should include identifying and protecting the “last ice areas,” the parts of the Arctic that are projected to retain sea ice farthest into the future. It is also important to increase monitoring of polar bear populations, particularly their responses to declining sea ice. And as polar bears spend more time on land, we need to be prepared to manage for increased human-polar bear conflict.

NOAA's Ocean Climate Change Web Portal


United States
33° 1' 1.3152" N, 123° 15' 13.0212" W
Tool Overview: 

 The NOAA/ESRL Physical Sciences Division (PSD) conducts weather and climate research to observe and understand Earth's physical environment, and to improve weather and climate predictions on global-to-local scales. This is an experimental web tool designed to explore changes projected in the oceans by coupled climate models' CMIP5 experiments (historical, RCP8.5 and RCP4.5).

NatureServe Vista


United States
44° 23' 22.2324" N, 99° 23' 32.2872" W
Tool Overview: 

NatureServe Vista® is a free, ArcGIS extension that automates advanced spatial analyses for planners and managers. It is a highly capable decision-support system that helps users integrate conservation with many types of planning, ecosystem based management, ecosystem based adaptation, and scenario-based planning.

Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas

Tool Overview: 

The Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas (Aqueduct) is a publicly available, global database and interactive tool that maps indicators of water-related risks. Aqueduct enables comparison across large geographies to identify regions or assets deserving of closer attention.

BETA LAUNCH: Projected Change Indicators, 2020, 2030, 2040

Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan for Cambridge Bay

Like most Arctic communities, Cambridge Bay is already experiencing the effects of climate change, and there are further changes projected. Both temperature and precipitation are projected to rise steadily over time, with the most significant increases occurring during the fall and winter seasons. Further concerns relate to the possibility of increases in climate variability and extreme events. Perhaps most importantly, the extent of sea ice in the Victoria Island region is projected to decrease steadily over time and the trend toward later freeze up and earlier melt is expected to continue.

These projected climate changes are of concern in the community and have been brought to the fore through a combination of research and consultation. Priority impacts have been identified with respect to infrastructure and community well-being:

  • Relocate infrastructure – i.e. ‘fuel farm’ and relevant proposed infrastructure
  • Identify better measuring and reporting of local ice and weather conditions to communities
  • Recognize / formalize information that hunters and trappers are able to provide regarding ice & snow conditions
  • Consider and implement new forms of communications (i.e. satellite phones) so that the hunters and trappers can warn communities about dangers that they immediately see out on the land
  • Continue to increase community awareness about climate change among schools, health care centres and Elders
  • Develop guidelines and standards for planning and development for climate change at the community level
  • Continue to document Elder’s knowledge for baseline information
  • Identify ways in which research data and local knowledge can be easily and efficiently reported back to the community in non-technical language

In order to initiate local-level adaptation measures, representatives from the Canadian Institute of Planners, in partnership with Natural Resources Canada, worked with the community of Cambridge Bay to develop this Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan. The action plan outlines a series of research, monitoring, planning and implementation activities that can be undertaken to address the identified potential climate change impacts. Primary responsibilities for each activity have been identified and an initial priority rating has been included. 

Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan: Clyde River, Nunavut

The community of Clyde River has prepared this plan to better prepare for changes that have started or might happen as a result of climate change. It is understood that this is a first step in a long journey to help the community adjust to climate change. Future steps will be based on new research, knowledge and experience obtained by the community. The plan includes three parts: the desired results [goals], the methods that will be used to achieve the desired results [strategies] and the specific steps that will be taken [an action plan]. 

Arctic Adaptation Exchange


United States
67° 49' 19.3512" N, 115° 33' 51.0768" W
Tool Overview: 

The Arctic Adaptation Exchange (AAE) facilitates knowledge exchange on climate change adaptation in the Arctic, and serves as a central information hub for communities, researchers and decision-makers in the public and private sectors. The AAE is a platform for individuals and organizations focused on northern issues to:

The Institute of Arctic Biology was founded in 1963 by the Board of Regents of the University of Alaska with Laurence Irving, a pioneer in the field of comparative physiology, as the founding director.

The Status of Climate Finance at COP20, Lima

A new briefing by the Climate Finance Advisory Service (CFAS) highlights the key climate finance issues on the agenda of the Conference of the Parties (COP) and the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP) at their meeting in Lima Peru in December 2014. The CFAS Guide: The Status of Climate Finance at COP20, Lima is authored by David Eckstein and Alpha Kaloga (Germanwatch), Alix Mazounie (RAC-France), Sven Harmeling (CARE), Raju Chhetri (independent consultant) and Henriette Imelda (IESR), with support from Sönke Kreft (Germanwatch).

Many climate negotiators and observers see climate finance as one of the linchpins holding together the entire international climate negotiation process. First, climate finance is key to closing gaps: delivering funds to implement mitigation and adaptation activities is required to ensure the highest possible efforts. For mitigation, this means keeping the planet on a pathway that limits global warming to 2°C or less; for adaptation, this means enabling climate-resilient development. Second, the provision of climate finance fulfils developed countries’ financial commitments to developing countries under UNFCCC obligations. Third, some stakeholders maintain that developed countries, which provide the means to implement climate change projects (finance, technology and capacity building) will determine developing countries’ level of commitment and buy-in to a new climate deal in 2015.

There is only one year left before the COP in Paris, where the Parties are expected to adopt a protocol – another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the UNFCCC – that is applicable to all Parties. There are few political openings left to reassure developing countries that their domestic climate actions will receive commensurate international support. In this context, the COP in Lima is a critical opportunity to provide the necessary predictability, which is currently missing in the negotiations.