2. Governance and Policy

Climate change has far-reaching impacts across jurisdictions and scales. Mainstreaming adaptation into policies and plans is important in order to adequately respond to climate change, and governmental and organizational mandates can amplify climate-informed decision making.



Develop & Implement Adaptation Plans

Most adaptation plans typically identify potential climate change impacts of concern, adaptation goals and strategies, and guidelines for the implementation of adaptation actions.

  • The Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and partners collaborated to evaluate the climate vulnerability of 44 marine and coastal resources of importance to the northcentral California.24 The study area included the entirety of the Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank sanctuaries and the northern extent of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Building off of this assessment, the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary released a climate adaptation plan in 2016. The plan is a product of recommendations developed by the Sanctuary Advisory Council and includes 26 strategies, including measures to protect the region’s most vulnerable offshore species (e.g., deep sea coral species, baleen whale species, and pteropods and other water column indicator species) and prioritize the implementation of living shorelines. The Sanctuary worked through the Resilient Lands and Waters Initiative and alongside partners such as Marin County to identify priority sites for these strategies.

  • The Broward County ClimateBroward County Climate Change Task Force and Climate Change Initiatives Change Task Force was created to develop recommendations for the Board of County Commissioners on climate mitigation and adaptation strategies.25 The Broward Climate Change Action Plan, first released in 2010, included a series of recommendations with the analysis of sea level rise projections, greenhouse gas emissions and sources, and a coastal vulnerability assessment. In 2015, the Action Plan was updated to include about 100 strategic actions to address the economic, environmental, and social impacts of climate change. All of the actions (e.g., 95 actions, 23 high-priority actions) of the 2015 Action Plan have been completed, and a recent update was completed in 2020. The updated plan includes county-wide efforts to address mitigation and adaptation options for transportation, infrastructure, and energy systems.


Create New or Enhance Existing Policies or Regulations

Policies and regulations can mandate adaptation action. Many existing policies have been adjusted to account for the reality of climate change; however, when existing mechanisms are unavailable or insufficient, new policies may be required.

  • The Washington Department of Natural Resources manages 2.6 million acres of state-owned aquatic lands and has a legal obligation to prepare for climate change impacts, such as sea level rise, ocean acidification, and erosion, as it holds these lands in the public trust.26 In preparing for sea level rise, the department has to consider jurisdictional issues and property ownership concerns because they have no existing authority over upland regions that may be inundated over time, which decreases the department’s ability to proactively plan for climate change. The department is working to implement policies to increase resilience (e.g., reduce non-climate stressors, encourage restoration and conservation), encourage new uses of state-owned aquatic lands (e.g., wind and tidal energy capabilities), and facilitate managed retreat (e.g., assist property owners in creating buffers to allow landward migration, utilize rolling easements). In 2020, the department released an internal climate resilience plan, and is working to build the scientific knowledge base that can best inform recommendations for landowners, policies, and leases.
  • The New Jersey Office of Planning Advocacy uses the Development and Redevelopment Plan to guide local land-use policies and ordinances.27 The department reviews amendments regularly and prioritizes community endorsements of the plan. To satisfy the requirements to get a land-use plan endorsed, communities must complete a rigorous stakeholder outreach process. In 2019, Governor Phil Murphy signed an Executive Order mandating the inclusion of climate change impacts (e.g., sea level rise and flooding) for the plan endorsement process. Municipalities interested in undergoing the plan endorsement process are required to develop climate resilience plans. The department is working with communities to craft land-use ordinances that include strategies to reduce vulnerabilities to flooding and extreme tidal flux, such as reducing the amount of impervious surface along the coast, protecting wetlands, and restoring coastal sand dunes.
  • In February 2013, the Broward County Board of Commissioners added a Climate Change Element to the county’s comprehensive plan.28 The element focuses on efforts to improve coordination and preparedness to better respond to climate change impacts on transportation, the built environment, natural systems, and water resources and services. Policy 19.3.13 of the Climate Change Element mandates that the county work with local municipalities to designate Adaptation Action Areas (AAAs), defined by Florida Statue 163.3177(6)(g)10 as areas that experience flooding due to extreme tides, storm surge, and sea level rise. Designation of AAAs helps counties prioritize funding for adaptation planning and investment. While Florida amended state law in 2012 to define AAAs and suggest them as an optional component of local comprehensive plans, Broward County was the first to take advantage of this new planning tool.


Develop & Implement Adaptive Management Strategies

Adaptive management is an iterative process wherein practitioners test specific actions to determine what approaches work best and why and make adjustments as needed. Adaptive management options are particularly useful in situations of high uncertainty.

  • The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project is the largest tidal restoration project on the West Coast, and will transform 15,100 acres to a mosaic of tidal wetlands and managed pond habitats that can buffer the area against sea level rise, flooding, and erosion.29 The project uses an adaptive management approach to implement restoration in multiple phases. Lessons learned from each phase of the project inform future phases and determine the final habitat configuration, and each restoration target is associated with triggers (e.g., indications that targets are not being met) and potential actions to change course if needed. The project team uses monitoring and a tracking scorecard to indicate if progress on restoration activities are meeting expectations or not. For example, targeted Phase 1 studies found that restoration activities successfully led to the return of several marsh species (e.g., salt marsh harvest mice), migratory waterbirds, and native fish species.
  • The Alligator River National WildlifeAlligator River National Wildlife Refuge/Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula Climate Adaptation Project Refuge is located in Dare and Hyde Counties, North Carolina. A pilot project was created to evaluate the effects of different adaptation strategies on areas impacted (or likely to be impacted) by sea level rise.30 Strategies tested included: creating oyster reefs to dissipate wave energy, installing water control structures to prevent saltwater intrusion, and planting salt- and flood-tolerant vegetation to enhance future shoreline stability and counteract expected habitat loss. The partners created over 1,900 ft of oyster reef habitat, protected 11 miles of shoreline, installed two large check valve structures to limit saltwater intrusion, and planted 20,000 flood-tolerant trees across 40 acres. The project has since expanded to encompass Pocosin Lakes and Great Dismal Swamp where restoration recommendations and strategies for communities impacted by sea level rise are the primary focus. Several efforts are underway to test adaptation strategies in the expanded area, including continued oyster habitat creation and marsh restoration.

  • An adaptation pathways approach is being used by the City of Santa Cruz wherein management options are associated with desired outcomes and triggers to identify potential adjustments that can be made if needed. This approach helps balance concerns about uncertainty in terms of climate projections and sociopolitical changes over time in climate adaptation planning. For example, adaptation pathways were identified for the protection, conservation, and restoration of the city’s beaches in the Beaches Climate Adaptation Policy Response Strategy Technical Report (Clark et al. 2020). Adaptation pathways for the West Cliff pocket beaches include:
    1. Using beach nourishment in the near-term at select beaches
    2. Upgrading stormwater infrastructure
    3. Maintaining or repairing shoreline armoring to protect infrastructure and/or retain sand within priority beaches
    4. Implementing a managed retreat strategy. The city may implement only some or all of these strategies over time in order to protect highly-valued pocket beaches for as long as is feasible given climate change


Develop Emergency Preparedness & Response Plans & Policies

Climate change may exacerbate natural disasters and emergencies, including droughts, floods, and severe storms that will harm people, infrastructure, and ecosystems. Disaster preparedness plans can help communities identify risks and develop response and recovery options, while climate-informed emergency services (e.g., police, fire, medical) policies will also help to reduce impacts.

  • The Cape Cod CommissionDisaster Preparedness and Response Planning in Barnstable County, Cape Cod developed disaster preparedness materials, including the Cape Cod Emergency Preparedness Handbook, to assist local officials and residents prepare for coastal hazard risks.31 The Commission coordinates and helps local communities develop hazard mitigation plans. The 2010 Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan for Barnstable County addresses the county’s vulnerability to flooding, wind, snow and ice, drought, earthquakes, hurricanes, sea level rise, shoreline erosion, increased coastal storms, and increased precipitation. By assisting towns in developing local plans, the Commission can help towns qualify for pre- and post-disaster planning funds. The Commission has since expanded its climate adaptation work to include stakeholder engagement on coastal vulnerabilities, a socioeconomic analysis of coastal ecosystem services (e.g., property values), and the development of the Cape Cod Coastal Planner, which helps users identify hazards of concern and available adaptation options.

  • Waveland, Mississippi is a small town in the Gulf of Mexico where many residents live less than 15 meters above sea level. Frequent floods and resulting costs of insurance rates and home repairs are driving residents out of the city. The city developed a hazard mitigation plan to address risks, including climate change (e.g., storm surge, sea level rise), coastal/canal bank erosion, floods (e.g., 100/500 year floods and localized flooding), and hurricanes/tropical storms.32 Since the plan’s release in 2013, the City of Waveland has begun to implement priority projects to ameliorate municipal risk. For example, since 90% of the city lies in a special flood hazard area, the city is implementing a $6.9 million project aimed at improving floodwater drainage. Implementation is ongoing but progress has been constrained by limits in staffing and funding.
  • The City of Santa Cruz has been a leader in climate change action for nearly three decades.33 The first formal plan that identified climate change as a major threat to the city was the Local Hazards Mitigation Plan 2007–2012. It identified floods, drought, coastal erosion, and wildfires as climate-related threats and identified response strategies. The city adopted an updated version of the plan in 2017 and released a climate adaptation plan in 2018. Together, these plans prioritize key actions such as the protection of coastal water infrastructure, relocating city building out of flood zones, and monitoring wastewater and stormwater pumping stations.