Numerous strategies but limited implementation guidance in US local adaptation plans


Adaptation planning offers a promising approach for identifying and devising solutions to address local climate change impacts. Yet there is little empirical understanding of the content and quality of these plans. We use content analysis to evaluate 44 local adaptation plans in the United States and multivariate regression to examine how plan quality varies across communities. We find that plans draw on multiple data sources to analyse future climate impacts and include a breadth of strategies. Most plans, however, fail to prioritize impacts and strategies or provide detailed implementation processes, raising concerns about whether adaptation plans will translate into on-the-ground reductions in vulnerability. Our analysis also finds that plans authored by the planning department and those that engaged elected officials in the planning process were of higher quality. The results provide important insights for practitioners, policymakers and scientists wanting to improve local climate adaptation planning and action.

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Figure 1: Communities with stand-alone climate change adaptation plans that comprised our sample.
Figure 2: Variation in plan quality principles.


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We would like to thank our dissertation committees—T. BenDor (UNC), P. Berke (TAMU), R. Bierbaum (UM), L. Hoey (UM), P. Jagger (UNC), L. Larsen (UM), M. Lemos (UM), L. Moore (UNC) and G. Smith (UNC)—who provided support and extensive friendly review. Partial financial support for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

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Both authors contributed extensively to this work. S.C.W. and M.S. jointly designed and tested the coding protocol and coded the plans in the sample. S.C.W. took the lead on compiling and analysing the data. Both authors contributed to writing and developing the manuscript at all stages.

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Correspondence to Sierra C. Woodruff.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Woodruff, S., Stults, M. Numerous strategies but limited implementation guidance in US local adaptation plans. Nature Clim Change 6, 796–802 (2016).

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