|"This really provides a step-by-step approach, answering many of the most important questions about what a community needs to do."|
King County, Washington
Sea level rise, drought and flooding, invasive species that are harmful to humans and the environment—the list of potential impacts from climate change is long and can be overwhelming for local, regional, and state decision makers trying to plan for the future. A new guidebook that uses familiar planning resources and tools is designed to help states and communities across the country adapt to the changing climate.
"Planning for climate change is not necessarily about being green. It really is about managing risk," says Lara Whitely Binder, outreach specialist for the Climate Impacts Group, one of eight regional climate impact assessment groups in the nation funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Preparing for Climate Change: A Guidebook for Local, Regional, and State Governments was developed by the Climate Impacts Group and King County, Washington, which is located on Puget Sound.
ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability was a contributing partner and is distributing the guidebook nationally to its more than 350 U.S. member cities, towns, and counties. The Climate Impacts Group and King County are also distributing the guidebook.
The guidebook is "a roadmap of action for local, regional, and state governments," says Jim Lopez, deputy chief of staff to elected King County Executive Ron Sims. "It enables them to ask the climate question with respect to priority planning areas and initiating a climate resiliency effort."
While many of the examples in the guidebook are from King County, ICLEI brought a national perspective to the project, which included piloting the guidebook in communities in New Hampshire and Alaska.
"This is a great tool for people in municipalities trying to figure out how to do this," says Mikaela Engert, planner for the City of Keene, New Hampshire. "It helps you think through the process and understand what you need to look at in your community."
The Coming Change
Within a few decades, climate in many parts of the country is expected to be significantly warmer. Reports released in 2000 by the U.S. Global Change Research Program and in 2007 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicate that many areas in the U.S. are vulnerable to flooding, coastal erosion, drought, heat waves, health impacts, and intense hurricanes and wildfires caused by climate change.
King County is one of these areas. Covering an area of 2,134 square miles, King County is nearly twice as large as the average county in the U.S. With almost 1.8 million people—including the city of Seattle—it ranks as the 14th most populous county in the nation.
King County is vulnerable to many projected climate change impacts, including declining mountain snowpack (which is directly linked to water supplies) and increased risk of drought, sea level rise, and flooding in coastal and freshwater river systems.
Learning and Acting
The idea for the guidebook came out of a 2005 conference that King County sponsored on the regional effects of climate change.
"It was packed," says Lopez. "There was enormous enthusiasm to learn and act on what was expected to be the climate change impacts in our region."
Lopez says the team wrote the guidebook with the understanding that the potential impacts of climate change and resulting issues would be different for each region of the country. "It's not prescriptive of any specific policy. It creates a framework that each region can use to create a plan based on that region's issues."
Information and Guidance
The guidebook includes information on creating a climate change preparedness team, identifying community vulnerabilities to climate change, and identifying, selecting, and implementing adaptation options—all the steps necessary in creating a climate change preparedness plan.
Guidance on where to find and how to evaluate climate change information is provided, as is a checklist on "How to Prepare for Climate Change." Information on implementing the resulting climate change plan and measuring its progress are also included in the guidebook.
"This really provides a step-by-step approach," says Lopez, "answering many of the most important questions about what a community needs to do."
Old Tools, New Lens
"The central message of the guidebook," notes Whitely Binder, "is that planning for climate change is no different than planning for the current stresses in the environment and community. It's really about looking at these issues through a slightly different lens. It's not about having to learn a whole new vocabulary, or how to use a whole new suite of tools."
For instance, she says, if managers are updating their coastal management plans, they need to be "updating it with the potential for sea level rise and the resulting change in habitat and flood risk, inundation of coastal aquifers, and erosion processes. These are all issues they are already dealing with. The key is looking at how climate change may affect these stresses."
She adds that there will "not be a silver bullet or one strategy that will fix all the issues. Adapting to climate change requires a diverse array of adaptation responses."
Part of the Plan
The guidebook was adopted by ICLEI as part of its Climate Resilient Communities program, a NOAA-funded initiative that helps local governments develop tools to protect their communities from the impacts and costs associated with climate change. A sister ICLEI program, Cities for Climate Protection, offers a framework for local governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve livability.
While part of the bigger program, "the guidebook really is something that anyone can pick up and run with," says Annie Strickler, ICLEI's communications director.
"Planning for climate change can be done," adds Lopez. "The information is there to do the work that can be made into meaningful policy."
To download Preparing for Climate Change: A Guidebook for Local, Regional, and State Governments, go to www.cses.washington.edu/cig/fpt/guidebook.shtml, or www.kingcounty.gov/exec/globalwarming/. For more information on ICLEI's Climate Resilient Communities program, go to www.iclei.org/index.php?id=6687. For more information on the guidebook, contact Jim Lopez at (206) 296-4048, or Jim.Lopez@kingcounty.gov, Lara Whitely Binder at (206) 616-5349, or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Annie Strickler at (510) 844-0699, ext. 328, or email@example.com. For more information on the City of Keene, New Hampshire's plan, contact Mikaela Engert at (603) 352-5474, ext. 6036, or firstname.lastname@example.org.