A Comprehensive Review of Climate Adaptation in the United States

This article reviews existing and planned climate adaptation responses by the government, nonprofit and private sectors throughout the United States, noting a lack of implementation and evaluation.

The authors reviewed a range of sources including the upcoming 2013 National Climate Assessment and find that most adaptation actions are focused more on incremental change than wide-scale transformational shifts. The article also includes a number of examples of current climate adaptation initiatives and strategies.
Governments at all levels, as well as the private and nonprofit sectors, are actively examining, and in some cases implementing, adaptation strategies.
Federal leadership, guidance, information, and support are vital to planning for and implementing adaptation actions at all scales.
Many of the climate-specific adaptation actions at the state level focus on planning.
Most adaptation efforts to date have occurred at local and regional levels, including land use planning, provisions to protect infrastructure and ecosystems, building regulations, and emergency preparation.
NGOs have provided planning guidance, implementation tools, contextualized climate information, best practice exchange, and help with bridging the science–policy divide to a wide array of stakeholders
A growing number of private companies are beginning to actively address risks from climate change.
Most adaptation actions are currently in the initial phase; focusing on identifying the relevant climate risks and conducting vulnerability assessments.
As the field of climate adaptation is relatively nascent, comprehensive evaluation metrics do not yet exist.
Uncertainty about the future, as well as about population growth, economic development, response strategies, and other social and demographic issues, can stymie climate adaptation activity.
Facilitating networking is instrumental to ensure that lessons learned and best practices are shared in order to foster the scaling up of climate adaptation activity.
Barriers to adaptation strategy implementation include:
  • Lack of funding
  • Policy and institutional constraints
  • Difficulty in anticipating climate change
Adaptation can advance through:
  • Learning by doing
  • Stakeholder engagement (i.e. listening sessions)
  • Sharing best practices
What's needed:
  • Removal of barriers
  • Enhancement of mechanisms to share information and best practices
  • Creation of comprehensive adaptation evaluation metrics


Photo via (cc) Flickr user U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Midwest Region


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