1. Capacity Building

Building the ability of individuals, organizations, and communities to prepare for, respond to, and recover from the effects of climate change is critical to enabling effective adaptation strategy design, implementation, and evaluation. Capacity to engage in adaptation and effectively adjust to climate change is frequently dictated by factors such as institutional or organizational support, funding, the quantity and quality of information, technological resources and technical skills, and social determinants such as economic and social stability.



Design or Reform Institutions to Address Climate Change

Institutional support is frequently mentioned as a key requirement for effective climate adaptation by practitioners. This may include creating new institutions (e.g., organizations, committees), enhancing existing institutions by increasing organizational capacity (e.g., hiring adaptation experts), and coordinating planning and management across jurisdictions (e.g., information sharing, formal partnerships).

  • The Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant Programs and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Gulf of Mexico Regional Collaboration Team created a climate change Community of Practice for extension, outreach, and education professionals in the Gulf 19 of Mexico.5 Since 2010, the Community of Practice has hosted annual meetings to discuss opportunities for collaboration in the region. These meetings are used by members to coordinate engagement with target audiences (e.g., local government officials, community planners, meteorologists, science educators, and city attorneys) to effectively communicate climate change impacts and adaptation measures. The Gulf of Mexico Community of Practice consists of over 300 members across 132 organizations, businesses, and local governments.
  • The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact between Broward, MiamiDade, Palm Beach, and Monroe counties is frequently touted as a hallmark of local government mitigation and adaptation coordination.6 The partnership collaborates through its Regional Climate Action Plan, which provides implementation plans on topics such as agriculture, energy, natural systems, public health, economic resilience, emergency management, social equity, transportation, and water management. In addition to the plan, the partnership has hosted leadership summits to maintain engagement and advance progress on climate action. At the 2017 summit, the local economic development community and county mayors convened to sign a statement pledging their intent to collaborate on building regional economic resilience through stronger public-private partnerships.
  • The Puerto Rico Climate Change Council was created out of a 2010 roundtable on climate change hosted by the Puerto Rico Coastal Zone Management Program (PRCCC 2021). The Council aims to use the best available scientific knowledge to assess the island’s habitats and communities that are most susceptible to climate change, to develop and prioritize adaptation strategies, and to share these findings and recommendations with the community, other management agencies, the media, and businesses. Membership in the council includes over 140 partners from the scientific, management, and planning communities.
  • The Water Utilities Climate Alliance is a coalition formed to help water utilities prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change and protect water supplies.7This partnership of 12 water providers develops resources to support climate-informed decision-making by water utilities and serves as a network for members to exchange lessons learned.


Conduct Research, Studies & Assessments

This strategy includes conducting targeted research and assessing impacts and vulnerability to identify how climate change is affecting marine and coastal environments to better inform decision-making. Targeted research aids adaptation initiatives by establishing baselines from which to measure change or by addressing uncertainties that may hinder progress. These programs include science, traditional ecological knowledge, and citizen science efforts. Impacts assessments provide information on specific climatic changes of concern and consequences that may be used to inform management. Vulnerability assessments help managers evaluate what resources (e.g., species, communities, buildings) are at risk and why by examining what climate and non-climate stressors a resource faces (exposure), the degree to which those stressors affect a resource (sensitivity), and the resource’s ability to cope with or respond to stressors (adaptive capacity).

Vulnerability of King County, Washington Wastewater Treatment Facilities to Sea Level Rise

  • The King County Wastewater Treatment Division manages 77 major wastewater facilities, 40 of which are located adjacent to tidally-influenced water bodies in Washington.8 An estimated one to two billion gallons of salt water enter the wastewater system every year, and sea level rise coupled with storm surge could make low-lying facilities prone to additional flooding in the future. The division evaluated the vulnerability of its facilities to flooding from sea level rise and intense storms in combination with concerns about aging infrastructure and capacity requirements. While approximately twenty facilities are at risk, the probability of imminent damage was determined to be low according to the projections used at the time. The division is now using updated sea level rise projections from the Washington Coastal Resilience Project to re-evaluate the vulnerability of these assets, and has determined that sea level rise will be the primary consideration in treatment plant retrofits and site selection.
  • The Delaware Coastal Management Program created a statewide Sea Level Rise Initiative.9 Scientists and managers worked together to compile information on potential vulnerabilities to and adaptation options for existing infrastructure and coastal habitats. Studies focused on sediment transport and accretion rates, developing a coastal monitoring network, gathering historical storm and tidal information, and developing coastal inundation maps. Products include a series of reports sharing sea level rise adaptation strategies that now serve as guidance for both state and local adaptation efforts.
  • The indigenous Qikiktagrugmiut people of Kotzebue, Alaska, developed a study to document traditional knowledge on observed changes in weather patterns, snow and ice characteristics, and hunting activities over a 50-year period.10Changes identified by tribal elders included warmer temperatures and more extreme variations in temperatures, as well as shifts in game composition. Some of these and other projected changes were not viewed as necessarily negative as a late freeze-up may create tougher travel conditions but allow for better hunting opportunities. The entire study was conceived, developed, and conducted by tribal members and employees.
  • As a biodiversity hotspot, the Hawaiian Islands are host to various research projects that aim to better understand and protect valuable species, habitats, and ecosystem services. However, the community stewards of these resources are often not engaged in research processes. In an effort to support more meaningful partnerships between researchers, natural and cultural resource practitioners, and the communities who care for and rely on local resources, the University of Hawai‘i, He‘eia National Estuarine Research Reserve, and Kua‘āina Ulu ‘Auamo spearheaded the formation of the Kūlana Noi‘i, or research guidelines, to promote collaborative, mutually-beneficial knowledge exchange.11The guidelines include best practices collected from insights of the Kua‘āina Ulu ‘Auamo Research Committee, Moloka‘i Climate Change Collaboration, and a literature review of other collaborative research efforts in Native Hawaiian, Native American, and Aboriginal Canadian communities.


Conduct Training & Planning Exercises

This strategy includes gathering stakeholders in trainings and workshops to understand how the climate is changing, evaluate how climate change is likely to affect resources of concern, and develop adaptation strategies and actionable plans for implementation.

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research invited over 50 coastal zone managers and stakeholders from North Carolina to participate in a workshop to help plan for and mitigate the regional climate change impacts of future sea level rise and increased storm intensity.12The purpose of the workshop was to use stakeholder input to help scientists design management products such as user-friendly mapping and modeling tools to facilitate planning for the effects of long-term sea level rise. This effort served as a pilot project for the broader Effects of Sea Level Rise Program (formerly known as the Ecological Effects of Sea Level Rise Program), which has expanded to include projects in California, Florida, Hawaii, and Maryland.
  • Nuestra Casa, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting Latino families in East Palo Alto and surrounding cities in San Mateo County, California, trains community members to become climate justice and equity leaders.13Their training programs center personal experience and local expertise as a means to identify community vulnerabilities, needs, and strengths, and enable residents to become more informed and effective advocates. The Environmental Justice program was created to listen to community members’ concerns and aid in the creation of community-developed solutions for consideration by government officials in local policies and plans. Examples include providing feedback on local development projects by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, supporting the development of an environmental justice and social equity amendment to the San Francisco Bay Plan, and establishing collaborative partnerships with local public agencies such as the Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative to address climate change.
  • The National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa convened a community vulnerability assessment and adaptation planning workshop series in 2016 to engage stakeholders that rely on the sanctuary’s resources, including village leaders, residents, resource managers, scientists, local government officials, and business owners (Score 2017). The sanctuary includes important marine and coastal habitats and species across Tutuila, Aunuʻu, Taʻū, and Swains islands as well as Rose Atoll, including coral reefs, mangroves, reef fish, sharks and rays, sea turtles, and giant clams. The workshops included training on climate science and adaptation planning, and provided opportunities for discussion between the community members about individual and collective actions that could be taken. For example, while the scientific and management community has long recognized the value of mangroves in stabilizing shorelines and providing critical fish habitat, these services are not highly valued by the public. In addition, mangroves are protected through various local and territorial regulations, but these policies are rarely enforced. Therefore a key adaptation strategy for the group was creating a mangrove education and outreach campaign to raise awareness of the habitat’s benefits and encourage local enforcement of mangrove protection guidelines.


Increase & Improve Public Awareness, Education & Outreach Efforts

This strategy includes engaging the public in the climate conversation through formal and informal mechanisms (e.g., curricula, websites, presentations), particularly as a means to amplify public buy-in and support for adaptation measures.

  • The Tampa Bay Estuary (Florida) and Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries (Texas) Programs published the Gulf Coast Community Handbook in 2012.14The handbook acts as a toolkit of options for the incorporation of climate change impacts into restoration efforts. It provides specific adaptation strategies and recommendations to communities to help them make informed decisions regarding their restoration priorities. The document illustrates how climate change can be incorporated into habitat restoration projects to enhance long-term resilience.
  • The University of the Virgin Islands, through the Virgin Islands Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (VI-EPSCoR) and the Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service (VIMAS), is connecting local communities to ecosystem restoration, natural resources, hurricane impact education, and environmental stewardship opportunities (VI-ESPCoR 2021). For example, the Ridge to Reef project identifies how human activities impact the natural resilience of the Virgin Islands’ coral reefs and coastal ecosystems, and incorporates STEM education for underrepresented students and workforce training initiatives.


Create & Enhance Technical Resources & Tools

This strategy includes creating or improving resources that may support climate-informed decision-making, such as forecasting and modeling tools, decision support tools, guidance documents, and maps.

  • The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council is charged with regulating activities along the state’s coastline.15 The Council has created several resources, such as the Coastal Hazard Application, which aims to guide development away from vulnerable coastal areas by increasing awareness of the potential hazards of sea level rise, storm surge, and coastal erosion among the development community (e.g., property owners, builders, realtors, financial institutions and insurers). The application is required for all proposed new and substantially improved buildings and infrastructure in the coastal zone.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Creating Resilient Water Utilities Program provides tools and technical assistance to help water utilities prepare for climate change.16These tools include the Climate Resilience Evaluation and Assessment Tool, which assists utilities in assessing risks from climate change on critical assets; the Resilient Strategies Guide for Water Utilities, which guides users through the identification and prioritization of mitigation and adaptation strategies; and the Storm Surge Inundation Map, which allows users to explore the potential effects of flooding caused by hurricanes.
  • The Nature Conservancy created the Coastal Resilience program to help planners, managers, and other decision makers visualize future climate scenarios and identify adaptation options.17 An interactive mapping tool allows users to visualize different inundation and flooding scenarios; analyze the potential ecological, social, and economic impacts of each scenario; and identify adaptation options that minimize losses to natural and human communities. First piloted in Long Island Sound, the program now includes projects in 17 coastal states as well as locations in Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America.


Create & Enhance Financial & Investment Mechanisms

Adequate financial resources are necessary to fund adaptation planning, implementation, and evaluation efforts. The availability and flexibility of funding, or lack thereof, is frequently noted as a barrier in adaptation projects. This strategy includes measures to mainstream adaptation funding in organizational and agency budgets, diversify funding sources, and provide assistance to vulnerable individuals and communities––both direct funding as well as support on complex federal and state disaster recovery assistance applications. Other investments may include workforce development programs (e.g., green jobs creation and training) and related efforts to transform employment opportunities in a changing climate.

  • The San Diego Foundation manages and distributes funds to address a variety of community issues in the area. The Climate Initiative supports regional efforts to increase community awareness of climate change.18 The Foundation is supporting scientific research to inform public policy, partnering with local governments to address climate change, and funding climate action planning by local cities and public agencies. Since 2006, the San Diego Foundation has invested more than $3.5 million in these efforts. Some funded efforts include: the City of San Diego’s Climate Action Plan; the City of Chula Vista’s Water Stewardship Plan; and the City of Imperial Beach’s Sea Level Rise Assessment.
  • The New York Climate Smart Communities program is a partnership between local communities and state agencies designed to address climate change.19 Communities voluntarily sign a Climate Smart Communities Pledge and can go through an additional certification process, which allows communities to qualify for funding to support the implementation of mitigation and adaptation actions. As of 2021, 70 certified communities are part of the program, most of which are located along the Atlantic and Great Lakes coasts.
  • The Massachusetts Department of Fish andHelping Massachusetts Coastal Communities Adapt to Climate Change Game’s Division of Ecological Restoration provides technical and financial assistance to local partners to plan and implement projects that incorporate climate adaptation into habitat restoration projects to build community resilience.20 Through a competitive process for project selection, applicants can obtain technical and project management assistance and incentive funding.


​​​​​​Monitor & Evaluate Environmental & Climatic Conditions & Adaptation Effectiveness

Monitoring and evaluation are key elements of the climate adaptation process. This strategy includes monitoring to document environmental or climatic changes and associated effects on resources of concern and provide early warning signals for necessary management interventions, as well as evaluation to understand if adaptation strategies are being implemented and with what degree of effectiveness. To date, less effort has been dedicated to evaluating adaptation effectiveness.

  • Tybee Island is located off the southeastern coast of the United States, about 20 miles from the City of Savannah and within Chatham County, Georgia. The area has historically flooded due to extreme weather and tidal events and is vulnerable to continued flooding from sea level rise and increased storms. Georgia Sea Grant and the City of Tybee Island partnered on a sea level rise adaptation plan.21 Since its release in April 2016, every strategy has been implemented. The city and partners are also implementing several monitoring activities to evaluate:
    1. The success of the plan’s recommended living shoreline project
    2. How the dunes are responding to restoration and reestablishment of plant communities
    3. How municipal well pumps are performing in light of flooding.
  • The Nature Conservancy manages theEffects of Sea Level Rise in Port Susan Bay, Washington Port Susan Bay Preserve in Washington State. Coastal erosion caused by water diversions, development, flooding, and sea level rise have changed the geomorphology of the ecosystem over time. In response, staff and volunteers have removed invasive species, reintroduced large woody debris, and removed a dike to increase the area of tidal marshland.22 Monitoring has shown that while marsh restoration and sediment accretion occurred much slower than was expected, current accretion rates are projected to keep pace with rising sea levels.

  • The Hawaii Ocean Resources Management Plan provides a framework for marine and coastal management that considers ecological, cultural, and economic needs throughout the archipelago.23The plan is updated every five years using up-to-date science and stakeholder input. The most recent plan, released in 2020, focuses on promoting the connections between land-use activities and the sea, Native Hawaiian ecological knowledge, collaboration and stewardship, and climate adaptation. Partners track progress towards implementation using a variety of metrics. Examples include the number of county general plans and county development plans that include adaptation; the number of shoreline erosion studies and maps completed/updated; and miles of beaches conserved or restored using nature-based practices. The Ocean Resources Management Plan Dashboard tracks the implementation of the plan’s management priorities. For example, as of 2020, nearly all counties in Hawaii incorporated climate change adaptation into two or more plans.