Regional Climate Adaptation Planning Alliance: Report on Climate Change and Planning Frameworks for the Intermountain West

Posted on: 11/23/2016 - Updated on: 2/27/2020

Posted by

Jose Gonzalez



Major cities in the arid and semi-arid areas of the Western US have developed a Regional Climate Adaptation Planning Alliance to develop a common regional approach to adaptation planning – including a collective vision of resilience, planning frameworks and information sharing opportunities. This Alliance is founded on its members’ shared goal to make climate change adaptation a priority at the local level and the collective understanding that successful climate change adaptation requires regional collaboration. Subsequent sections of this report lay out a vision for resilience in the West; suggest common adaptation goals for municipalities in the region; describe the rationale for action on adaptation; establish common assumptions about climate change scenarios; and identify common focus areas and planning frameworks.

Sections 1 and 2 outline a collective vision for a region resilient to changing climate conditions. The vision describes a positive future in which Western communities identify the trends and hazards that threaten quality of life, and take the initiative to respond locally and regionally in building stronger communities, economies, and ecosystems. Section 2 outlines the principles that can guide Alliance members in achieving its vision of resilience.

Moving from the vision toward planning steps, Section 3 elaborates on the following six reasons to engage in climate change adaptation:

  1. The climate has already changed and future changes are highly certain.
  2. Climate change poses a threat to existing community priorities and commitments.
  3. Today’s decisions have long legacies, thereby shaping tomorrow’s vulnerabilities.
  4. Planning now can save money, while inaction now will lead to higher costs in the future.
  5. Planning for uncertainty is not new, and can be integrated into current planning frameworks.
  6. Adaptation has co-benefits for other community priorities.

Section 4 is a focused summary of current climate change science that is relevant to the broad region of the Intermountain West. It provides the scientific basis for planning and outlines the historic and projected shifts in two primary changing climate conditions – temperature and precipitation. Additionally, information on snowpack and streamflow, secondary climate change condisioins, is provided due to the significant role these factors play in the region. The report draws on existing academic literature and finds overwhelming evidence that the region will experience a trend toward higher temperatures with a projected rise in 2020 to between 1.9 and 3 °F above a 1960 – 1979 baseline.1 The report also found significant evidence that the region will likely see declining snowpack and streamflow over the long term. While projections for temperature and snowpack are more certain, the variability of precipitation patterns currently prevents to scientists from discerning a definite trend for the region. The section concludes with key information for understanding climate change including shifting averages, increasing extremes, and the timing of change.

Although temperature, precipitation, and snowpack projections are important to understand in themselves, communities are often most concerned with the impacts of climate change to communities. Section 5 presents key climate change impacts for the region, covering five different sectors – Water Resources; Agriculture and Food Security; The Built Environment and Extreme Events; Public Health; and Economic Impacts. The section also includes key information about the interdependencies of climate change impacts.

Water resources will be severely impacted by a number of key factors, but the ability to meet consumer demand in multiple sectors could be most threatened by increasing dryness. The built environment is most threatened by future increases in flooding, wildfire risk and energy disruptions. The report finds that the biggest concern for the public health sector is likely to be the increase in heat-related morbidity and mortality over the coming decades. Although the secondary impacts to the regional economy are not as clearly understood, the costs of inaction are likely to be very high. For water supply alone, the cost of climate impacts could be as high as nearly 1 trillion dollars annually by 2100.2 .

The final three sections provide additional information to help the Alliance pursue its next steps. Section 6 uses ICLEI’s Climate Resilient CommunitiesTM (CRC) Five Milestones for Climate Adaptation planning framework to describe the general approach of climate adaptation planning. The section also outlines three different options for local governments to work through this framework: 1) Stand-alone adaptation planning 2) Integrated adaptation planning and 3) Sector-specific adaptation planning. Section 7 provides guidance and options for information-sharing among Alliance participants. Finally, Section 8 identifies the following near-term objectives for Alliance activities:

  1. Establishing a regular dialogue by conference call or online meeting; 
  2. Creating a resolution articulating the group’s intentions and goals;
  3. Adoption of the resolution by local governing bodies; and
  4. Developing an online platform for information-sharing.