~ Step 3: Design

Identify Climate Adaptation Options

Once you have identified key vulnerabilities, it is time to develop adaptation strategies and actions to help limit or eliminate climate vulnerabilities. It is important to engage other stakeholders in this process to discuss options and develop alternatives to reduce potential conflicts. In general, it is best to utilize a portfolio approach in order to spread risk and resources across a range of actions; this may include strategies already being taken in the planning area, those that could be implemented with some modifications, and those that have not been thought of yet. 

Some guiding questions to help identify adaptation strategies include:

  • What sectors and resources are most vulnerable? 
  • Are there issues that are more urgent than others to address in the planning area?
  • Are there current problems that need to be addressed and are expected to get worse with climate change? 
  • How can we prioritize actions that benefit the area regardless of how climate change manifests?
  • Can we develop strategies that maximize both mitigation and adaptation opportunities (e.g., open space conservation, protection of coral reefs and mangroves)?


Evaluate & Prioritize Adaptation Options

To establish credibility in the process, it is important to evaluate potential actions by several criteria, including feasibility, urgency, cost-efficiency, flexibility, robustness, and equity of such actions. 

Criteria Key Questions

Given existing regulations in the planning area, how feasible is it to implement these actions? 

Are there existing mechanisms that can be modified to specifically integrate climate change (e.g., policies, laws, comprehensive plans)? 

Are there existing policies and plans that address climate change (e.g., sea level rise policy)?

What actions can be integrated into existing projects and programs?

Urgency What are the costs of not implementing these strategies and actions? What are the avoided costs?
Cost-Efficiency Are there actions that are particularly low cost and/or quick to implement? How much funding is required to implement these actions?
Flexibility Are the actions flexible enough to allow for adjustments over time as new climate projections and data become available?
Robustness Are the actions designed to cope with a range of future climate projections?
Equity Are the actions likely to have an adverse effect on adjacent planning areas, populations, or sectors?  


Action 7. Limit development in vulnerable areas

Areas susceptible to the effects of coastal flooding and erosion should be deprioritized for new coastal development. There are several mechanisms to support this action, including setbacks, buffers, rolling easements, and zoning. There are many ways to establish and apply setbacks, ranging from jurisdiction-wide fixed setbacks to project-by-project individualized setbacks.

Coastal setbacks and buffers: A plethora of examples from the United States

  • Fixed setbacks are defined relative to a pre-determined feature. This may be a dynamic reference feature such as Mean High Water Level (MHWL) that will closely track changes in sea level, a fixed reference feature such as roads or elevation contours that will not track sea level at all, or features with an intermediate level of stability, such as cliff edges or vegetation lines. For example, Maryland expanded buffer requirements from 100’ to 300’ for new subdivisions in Resource Conservation Areas and for projects requiring site plan approval and involving a change in land use. Portsmouth, N.H., mandates a 100’ Tidal Wetlands Buffer, prohibiting construction of buildings and impervious surfaces, and filling or dredging within the buffer zone. Permitted uses include wildlife refuges, parks, natural trails, and open space.
  • Erosion-based setbacks are determined based on projected rates of erosion and sea level rise over some specified time horizon, typically the assumed life of a structure. For example, Maine mandates that setbacks reflect two feet of sea level rise over 100 years.
  • Mixed or tiered setbacks vary for different projects or locations to reflect varying erosion rates, shoreline stability, topography, lot size, building size, and expected building lifespan. In North Carolina, setbacks are set relative to the vegetative line, and vary from 30 times the annual erosion rate for smaller structures to 90 times the erosion rate for larger structures. Kaua‘i County in Hawaii determines setbacks based on a mix of erosion rate, lot size, building footprint, and fixed distance. The minimum setback distance is determined by lot size: ranging from 40 feet for lots with an average depth of 100 feet or less, to 100 feet for lots with an average depth greater than 200 feet. For lots with an average depth of 160 feet or less, owners can use the minimum fixed setback distance or an erosion-based setback. For lots with an average depth greater than 160 feet, minimum shoreline setbacks are based on lot sizes, but setbacks can be larger depending on erosion rates. For small buildings, the setback is 40 feet plus 70 times the site-specific annual erosion rate; for larger buildings, it is 40’ plus 100 times the annual erosion rate. Prior to 2003, Maui County had setbacks ranging from 25 feet to one-quarter of the lot depth for lots deeper than 160 feet. In 2003, the Planning Commission updated this requirement to make it more stringent, specifying setbacks of 50 times the annual erosion rate plus 20 feet, or the old requirement, whichever is greater. Minor and/or removable structures are allowed seaward of the setback line, however. 


Action 8. Engage stakeholders to strengthen public buy-in and support

Case Study: Planning for multiple uses in Massachusetts state waters

The Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan (MOMP) was adopted as the official framework to facilitate the sustainable use of the state’s ocean waters, protect critical marine habitat and uses, and set standards for new ocean-based development. Working in collaboration with stakeholders, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs first conducted an initial assessment of the best available science and data on ocean resources and uses. This created a management structure to assist the State in balancing current and future uses of the area, while working to protect critical habitat and maintain economic development. Stakeholder and community engagement has been maintained throughout the MOMP’s development and implementation to assist in guiding ongoing efforts. 


Action 9. Use climate-related information to evaluate and/or prioritize uses

Case Study: Including a range of climate effects in planning for Rhode Island’s coastal zone and state waters

Special Area Management Plans (SAMPs) have been used for over 30 years in Rhode Island and are now being applied to state waters. SAMPs are comprehensive plans comprised of ecosystem-based strategies designed to preserve and restore ecological systems while maintaining sustainable coastal development and economic growth. The Rhode Island Ocean SAMP is a federally recognized, multi-pronged coastal management and regulatory tool. In 2008, the state began developing Ocean SAMPs, partly to address climate change and its associated effects. The plan reviews the potential risks and benefits posed by climate change to regional ocean uses, including marine transportation, navigation, and infrastructure; recreation and tourism; and fisheries. The Coastal Resources Management Council is responsible for: 

  • Considering climate change impacts on the feasibility, safety, and effectiveness of activities and uses within the SAMP area;
  • Convening a Science Advisory Panel for Climate Change to provide up-to-date advice on climate information and potential effects on management;
  • Prohibiting land-based and offshore development projects that may threaten public safety, not perform as designed, or otherwise cause environmental impacts under projected sea level rise scenarios; and
  • Developing design standards for coastal and marine infrastructure that account for climate-related changes in storms, winds, and waves.


Action 10. Implement climate mitigation and adaptation options

Case Study: Piloting a marine spatial planning approach in Scotland’s Orkney Islands

The Orkney Islands Council, Highland Council, and Marine Scotland partnered on a project to develop a marine spatial plan to guide development, activities, and decisions in Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters (PFOW). The Pilot PFOW Marine Spatial Plan created a planning framework to guide marine use and management in advance of statutory regional marine plans for Orkney and the North Coast Scottish Marine Regions. The plan addresses several climate impacts of concern, including sea level rise, ocean acidification, increasing ocean temperatures, and extreme storms. The PFOW area, including ecological, biological, and cultural resources and built infrastructure, is at risk from these impacts. For example, altered shipping routes caused by decreased sea ice in the Arctic may cause an increase in maritime traffic in the PFOW region. Climate change will also affect coastal heritage assets and the associated recreation and tourism industry. Policy 3 of the plan states that activities in PFOW only be supported if the proposals demonstrate that resilience has been built into the project over the long term, and that greenhouse gas emissions are minimized as much as possible. The plan guides marine licensing and permitting decisions by Marine Scotland, Orkney Islands Council, and Highland Council for the region.