Adaptation & Resilience

Policies to prepare for the local impacts of the climate crisis and other environmental disasters

Governance and Planning

Governance Structures

Adaptation and resilience governance structures include executive offices, dedicated government staff members, and advisory bodies, councils, boards, or committees that work to identify and address key resilience and adaptation issues in a state. These structures are divided into three main categories: Office Designations, Task Forces/Advisory Groups, and Cabinet Commissions and Committees.

Office Designation

Office Designation includes permanent adaptation/resilience staff members that oversee policies and programs related to resilience planning, vulnerability and risk assessments, and disaster recovery. Increasing community resilience requires dedicating staff time and resources to properly engage communities, ensure collaboration among state agencies, and tackle the unique challenges of the state. These staff members can work within an executive office focused on adaptation and resilience, such as a state Resiliency Office, or can be an appointed position, such as a “Chief Resilience Officer.” 

Task Force/Advisory Groups

Task Forces/Advisory Groups tend to be composed of state staff, appointed experts, and stakeholders representing various communities, who are responsible for making policy recommendations and increasing public engagement. These are often working groups or advisory councils. 

Cabinet Commissions and Committees

Adaptation/resilience Cabinet Commissions and Committees are formed by various legislative and executive processes. These groups are generally composed of various state agency members, and have direct oversight over the development, allocation, or implementation of a solution framework. They have more control over advisory groups, but at the same time do not have the same scope or functionality of entire Offices.

Key Resources

State Examples

  • Colorado Revised Statute 24-32-122 – Created the Colorado Resiliency Office in the Division of Local Government within the Department of Local Affairs.
  • Connecticut Executive Order 3 (2019) — Expands the existing Governor’s Council on Climate Climate Change to include mitigation, adaptation, and resilience provisions. An additional focus on vulnerable communities helps advance key environmental justice initiatives.
  • Hawai’i Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission — State Interagency Commission that supports resilience in vulnerable communities, creates important policy tools, and engages with local, national, and international governments.
  • Rhode Island Executive Order 23-07 (2023) — Appoints a Chief Resilience Officer to coordinate resilience efforts across state agencies, municipalities, and organizations across the state.

    Adaptation and Resilience Plans

    At the state level, adaptation planning outlines current and projected climate change impacts and response actions. This process typically results in a document called an adaptation plan that identifies strategies to protect human health and safety, the natural and built environment, and the economy. State agencies consider climate change impacts in local planning and infrastructure: zoning, housing, employment, transportation, and building codes. 

    While adaptation plans tend to focus only on climate impacts, resilience planning can encompass broader challenges the state and/or local communities will face, including shocks and stressors interconnected with climate impacts. State-level resilience plans can focus on preparedness across state agencies and/or provide resources and a planning framework for local governments and communities.

    Adaptation and resilience plans fall into three main categories: i) Action Plans, ii) Assessments, and iii) Frameworks. Action plans are plans with explicit, actionable items that typically have a timeline or even a source of funding for the included projects. On the other hand, assessments take the form of reports, and are primarily informational tools that help policymakers and other stakeholders. Finally, frameworks are general guides that states have provided for various parties, for example those pursuing a construction project on the coast. They serve to provide additional information relevant to certain regions with regards to adaptation and resilient development, but are not mandatory

    Key Resources

    State Examples

          Climate Hazard Mitigation Plans

          Climate hazard mitigation plans include recommended policies or government interventions intended to reduce the immediate and long-term risks to human life and property from climate-related hazards. They typically include state actions as well as resources and recommendations for tribes, counties, and communities. States commonly produce these plans for droughts, wildfires, and flooding, among other natural hazards.

          Key Resources

          State Examples

          • Connecticut Disaster Recovery Framework and ESF #14 (2019) — A framework for state-level support of local and tribal recovery efforts from climate damages through partnerships with local, state, tribal, non-governmental, and federal organizations.
          • Wisconsin’s State of Wisconsin Hazard Mitigation Plan (2021) — Highlights the state’s mitigation strategy, local planning efforts, and hazard mitigation programs and funding in Wisconsin.
          • Massachusetts State Hazard Mitigation and Adaptation Plan (2018) — The plan uniquely provides an overview of the potential effects of climate change as related to that hazard. For each natural hazard addressed in the plan, the populations at-risk to these hazards and the impacts on vulnerable populations are identified.

            Solutions and Funding

            Building Codes, Land Use, and Zoning Laws

            Building codes, land use, and zoning laws can be updated for disaster preparedness to ensure safety during events such as floods, hurricanes, wildfires, and heat waves. This might include new recommendations for the weatherization of buildings or considering climate impacts such as sea level rise or wildfire risk in new development projects (for instance, implementing laws requiring new developments be a specified distance away from coastlines). Relocating, repairing/improving, or retrofitting important facilities, like water treatment plants, power plants, and landfills, to ensure they can still provide service during extreme weather events and do not cause health and safety issues are also important measures to account for climate impacts.

            Key Resources

            State Examples

            • Maine LD 563 – Act to Help Municipalities Prepare for Sea Level Rise (2019) — Amends the State’s growth management and local land-use planning requirements to address the effects of sea-level rise. It allows coastal municipalities and regions to consider sea level rise projections and potential effects on buildings, transportation infrastructure, sewage treatment facilities, and other municipal or private facilities.
            • California SB 379 (2015) — Requires local governments to include consideration of climate impacts in local land-use plans (or general plans).

              Built/Hard Infrastructure

              Climate change will impact built structures, from buildings to power plants to highways. States can study and develop policies that consider the potential effects of sea level rise, wildfires, and extreme weather on buildings, transportation infrastructure, sewage treatment facilities, and other municipal or private facilities. Investing in “hard” shoreline structures, such as levees and floodwalls, to protect against extreme weather are also policy solutions states can implement.

              Key Resources

              State Examples

              • Florida CS/HB 7053 (2022) – Requires the Florida DOT to develop a resilience action plan for the state highway system
              • California AB 2800 (2016) — Created a Climate-Safe Infrastructure Working Group to make recommendations on how to integrate projected climate change impacts into engineering standards for infrastructure projects. State agencies must take into account the current and future impacts of climate change when planning, designing, building, operating, maintaining, and investing in state infrastructure.

                Grid Resilience Measures

                Microgrids are self-sufficient energy systems that typically serve distinct, local areas. They use one or more kinds of distributed energy sources (typically solar) to produce electricity.  When damage to traditional, centralized utilities occurs, microgrids can independently provide power until utility service is restored. This can be especially important for essential infrastructure such as emergency shelters, hospitals, water pumps, and telecommunications. Expansion of such distributed renewable energy sources will be increasingly important as states proceed with energy transitions and electrifying their economies while mitigating climate impacts that affect utility service.

                “Hardening” the energy grid involves taking actions that strengthen grid infrastructure to make it more resilient to climate hazards and protect customers from weather-related outages. This ability for continued operations under climate impacts is sometimes called enhanced “absorptive capacity” of the energy system. Several actions can be taken to harden the energy grid. Renewables are a growing feature of grid-hardening as they’re conducive to energy storage and distributed energy systems. Diversified energy sources, redundancies (p. 50, 84), pole reinforcing, and undergrounding of electric lines all increase the grid’s capacity to stay online during extreme weather. Additionally, grid modernization measures, including demand response, smart meters, and energy conservation and efficiency efforts, can improve grid sensitivity and response time so it can adjust more quickly to disruptions.

                Key Resources

                State Examples

                • Colorado HB22-1013 (2022) – Creates the Microgrids for Community Resilience Grant Program
                • Hawaii Act 2013-34 (2013) — Advanced Grid Modernization, improving reliability, efficiency, resilience, and capacity for renewables
                • New York’s Prize program — Provided funding for microgrid development through three phases, from study to construction.
                • Massachusetts Microgrid Feasibility Studies — The state provided $75m for microgrid feasibility studies.

                  Ecosystem Protection

                  Natural solutions aim to maintain or restore ecosystems and habitats to mitigate negative climate impacts. According to the EPA, healthy ecosystems can, for instance, reduce sediment and nutrient inputs, regulate runoff, and buffer against storm surges. Measures that preserve natural ecosystems are also often called “soft” adaptation measures. Removing invasive plants to reduce wildfire risk, planting vegetation that stabilizes sediment and reduces coastal erosion, remediating coastal brownfield sites, and removing “hard” shoreline structures to allow for shoreline migration (living shorelines) are all examples of natural solutions.

                  In terms of policy implementation, ecosystem health can be maintained through rolling easements, identifying and protecting ecologically significant areas, creating permitting rules that constrain locations for hazardous waste sites, land acquisition/exchange programs (purchasing upland property/development rights), and dedicating funding towards natural solutions or state conservation trusts.

                  Key Resources

                  Model Rules

                  State Examples

                  • Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast — The Plan includes a list of projects and strategies that build or maintain land and reduce risk to communities. 
                  • Delaware — The state has permanently protected an estimated 90 percent of its coastline through mechanisms like the Open Space Program and the Coastal Zone Act Program, and its Beach Preservation Act directs the DNR and Environmental Control to prevent and repair damage to shorelines and has a dedicated funding source. 
                  • New Mexico Executive Order 2021-052 (2021) — Aims to set aside 30 percent of the state’s lands and waters by 2030 for conservation and another 20 percent for climate stabilization.
                  • California’s Forest Legacy Program — CAL FIRE purchases or accepts donations of conservation easements or fee title of productive forest lands to encourage their long-term conservation.

                    Green Stormwater Infrastructure

                    Green infrastructure relies on vegetation, soil, and other natural systems to manage water quality and stormwater impacts. Examples of green infrastructure include green roofs, rain gardens, rainwater harvesting, urban greening, permeable pavements, and land conservation. States can require incorporation of green infrastructure in new construction and development projects, and directly invest in green infrastructure.

                    Key Resources

                    State Examples

                    • California AB 65 (2019) — Prioritizes funding “natural infrastructure” projects for climate adaptation, defining natural infrastructure as conservation/management of ecosystems and/or engineered systems that can be combined with natural systems to provide ecosystem and human benefits.

                      State Funding

                      State agencies can assist local communities and municipal governments with finding adaptation and resilience solutions and funding to protect human health and infrastructure through state-run programs.. States may establish disaster preparedness and response programs, infrastructure investments, and research initiatives. States may establish “green banks” or “resilience banks” to fund these programs, investments, and public-private partnerships.

                      Key Resources

                      State Examples

                      • Colorado SB 21-221 (2021) — Funds private and public projects under the forest restoration and wildfire risk mitigation grant program
                      • Maryland Act 644 (2021) — Establishes the Resilient Maryland Revolving Loan Fund for local governments
                      • Rhode Island S 0035 (2021) Establishes the Ocean State Climate Adaptation and Resilience Fund for public land development

                        Equitable Response

                        Identify Vulnerabilities in Communities

                        As climate-related impacts worsen, state governments must identify and address climate change impacts and vulnerabilities in communities. A Community Vulnerability Assessment (CVA) is part of the adaptation planning process, better informs public investment, and can help communities get the resources they need to respond to climate impacts. A CVA identifies ways a community can address specific needs related to demographics, vulnerability of resources, livelihood and income, awareness of personal vulnerability, access to climate-related information, community resilience and governance, and/or equitable access to resources.

                        Key Resources

                        State Examples

                        • California EO B-30-15 (2015) — Requires consideration of climate change impacts in the State’s Infrastructure Investment Plan and in all state planning and investment decisions. The Technical Advisory Group (TAG) established by the order released the Resiliency Guidebook Vulnerable Populations report to identify population groups most impacted by climate change.

                          Managed Retreat

                          Among different definitions and conceptions of this coastal adaptation strategy, managed retreat may be defined as the voluntary movement of people and ecosystems from high-risk coastal areas. In addition to building “hard” shoreline structures, governments can consider relocating people and infrastructure before disasters cause damage and threaten health and safety. Managed retreat requires comprehensive planning and understanding of climate impacts, community engagement and equitable approaches, and typically funding to implement these relocation projects.

                          Key Resources

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