~ Regional Challenges & Opportunities

Climate change is not a problem of the future – it is a pressing dilemma that faces all of us every day. In the Great Lakes region, there are many individuals, organizations, and agencies interested and/or engaged in climate change adaptation efforts. Most efforts have focused on building capacity of practitioners to understand, address, and plan for climate change. There are fewer examples of adaptation being implemented on the ground. Survey participants listed a number of challenges to taking action; some examples include:

  • Lack of financial capacity, including limited funding to support staff time to initiate or sustain climate change efforts within organizations or to coordinate multi-sector efforts (e.g., Michigan Climate Coalition, WICCI).
  • Lack of institutional capacity, including limited staff knowledge and/or resources to support internal and coordinated efforts.
  • Lack of political will and mandate for action, including the inability to sustain interest in climate change over time and with constantly pressing other issues and priorities (e.g., economic problems).
  • Limited guidance on how to apply the wide variety of information available on climate change impacts and adaptation.
  • Limited information sharing between and across agencies and organizations.

Survey participants also listed the following activities that would help support existing or promote future adaptation initiatives:

  • Tracking legal and regulatory frameworks at local, state, regional, national, and international levels to guide climate change action.
  • Identifying the most applicable data, models, resources, and tools that can support adaptation efforts at different scales and for different sectors (e.g., what is an appropriate adaptation planning tool for city water utilities?).
  • Translating climate change science and adaptation information for both practitioners and laypeople.

Many of the challenges and needs mentioned by survey participants are not uncommon246,247,248 however, there are also many opportunities to enhance existing or create new adaptation initiatives. These include:

  • Enhancing collaborative efforts. Some cities and states/provinces are further ahead than others in the region on climate change adaptation. Enhancing collaboration and coordination can build capacity for adaptation through the sharing of resources (technical, financial), tools, and knowledge.
  • Increasing knowledge and information translation. Climate change science and adaptation information can be overwhelming to process and apply for many practitioners. Translation and education are needed in order to help these practitioners overcome analysis paralysis so that adaptation can be integrated and applied in decision making.
  • Increasing knowledge sharing. A lot of effort has been made to facilitate information development and dissemination in the Great Lakes region. Increasing the mechanisms through which this knowledge is shared could be enhanced; GLISAclimate and the Adaptation Collaboratory are two such means. Engaging in and sharing local knowledge on more national and international websites, such as CAKE and weADAPT, would promote adaptation activities in the Great Lakes; users could also apply lessons learned and case studies from other regions gathered through these resources to local efforts in the Great Lakes region.
  • Developing vulnerability maps. Because the effects of climate change will vary across space, vulnerability assessments and adaptation strategies can be improved by accounting for the specific threats posed to a target area. Vulnerability maps compare scenarios of future climate changes, such as changes in temperature, vegetation patterns, or hydrology, with contemporary layers, such as the locations of priority habitats, focal species distributions, or current land use practices. These ‘climate-informed’ maps help identify those areas likely to change more and those likely to change less, as well as identify where key resources are likely to be most affected by changing climate conditions. Combined mapping of valued resources and climate-related impacts also allows managers and planners to target protection and intervention efforts in more informed ways, including developing adaptation strategies and identifying where, when, and how to implement those strategies for effective resource management. Similar efforts have been completed for terrestrial, freshwater, and coastal marine habitats in western Washington.249,250
  • Engaging in other national or international efforts. For example, the Water Utility Climate Alliance was created in 2007 to help water and wastewater utilities prepare for climate change. Current members include the Central Arizona Project, Denver Water, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, New York City Department of Environmental Protection, Portland Water Bureau, San Diego County Water Authority, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Seattle Public Utilities, Southern Nevada Water Authority, and Tampa Bay Water. These agencies work collaboratively on ways to address climate change impacts on water utilities.251 Similar utilities in the Great Lakes region could engage in this effort. Great Lakes states could also join the StormSmart Coasts Network, which provides local coastal communities and decision makers with up-to-date and relevant information on storms, flooding, and climate change. Information is tailored to each individual state and presents details to support preparation and recovery efforts before, during, and after storms.252
  • Enhancing monitoring and evaluation. Monitoring and evaluation are needed to identify climate-driven changes and to test adaptation efficacy, specifically what is and is not working so that approaches can be modified. While some evaluation happens on an ad hoc basis, many practitioners are in need of a specific climate change adaptation monitoring and evaluation decision support tool; some efforts to meet this need include the Climate-Eval website253 from the Global Environment Facility and a monitoring toolkit from EcoAdapt that is in development.

246 Glick, P., A. Staudt, & B. Stein. (2009). A New Era for Conservation: Review of Climate Change Adaptation Literature. National Wildlife Federation. 54p.

247 Kareiva, P., C. Enquist, A. Johnson, S.H. Julius, J. Lawler, B. Petersen, L. Pitelka, R. Shaw, & J.M. West. (2008). Synthesis and Conclusions. In: Preliminary review of adaptation options for climate-sensitive ecosystems and resources. A Report by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research [Julius, S.H., J.M. West (eds.), J.S. Baron, B. Griffith, L.A. Joyce, P. Kareiva, B.D. Keller, M.A. Palmer, C.H. Peterson, and J.M. Scott (Authors)]. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, USA, pp. 9-1 to 9-66.

248 Gregg et al. 2011.

249 Kershner, J., E. Mielbrecht, M. Koopman, & J. Leonard. (2012). A Climate-Informed Conservation Blueprint for the Greater Puget Sound Ecoregion. Prepared by EcoAdapt and the Geos Institute for the Sierra Club. Bainbridge Island, WA.

250 From the Mountains to the Sea: Applying the Yale Framework in Puget Sound.

251 Feifel, K. & Gregg, R. M. (2010). Water Utility Climate Alliance [Case study on a project of the Water Utility Climate Alliance]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE (Last updated July 2011).

252 Gregg, R. M. (2010). The National StormSmart Coasts Network: Linking Coastal Decision Makers to Resources [Case study on a project of StormSmart Coasts]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE (Last updated April 2010).

253 Climate-Eval.