Proving what we suspected all along - climate planners are not sufficiently practical

Proving what we suspected all along - climate planners are not sufficiently practical

It would be easy to say that evidence-based approaches to almost everything are better than those that are purely intuitive.  As we all know, if we are prepared to admit it, a great deal of what gets done actually lacks evidence and is based on intuition.  From time-to-time, it is valuable for researchers to dig into current practice and see whether it is effective and, if not, to establish why.

Nowhere is this more important than when there has been a strong political or practical compulsion to act, and yet time hasn't been available to consider properly how to do so.

An example of this is in planning responses to climate change.  Whether they are mitigation, adaptation, or resilience driven, many local authorities prepare strategic plans to respond, often based on the recommendations of consultants.  But how accurate are these, and is there anything missing?

Stults and Woodruff completed an analysis of 43 local climate adaptation plans from civic bodies in the US.  They found that most contained appropriate responses, though few included such things as building codes and advocacy.  What was most striking though, was the absence of any practical steps to implement the various plans.

Many adaptation experts have been flagging this for a long time but without the evidence to support it.  It is relatively easy to hire a consultant, have them produce a report, and then to cherry pick the higher profile or least expensive options to the detriment of what will really make a difference.

Best wishes, Graham

Title: Looking under the hood of local adaptation plans: shedding light on the actions prioritized to build local resilience to climate change

Stults, M & Woodruff, SC (2016)


In the face of a changing climate, many United States (US) local governments are creating plans to prepare. These plans layout how a community is vulnerable to existing and future changes in climate as well as what actions they propose taking to prepare. The actions included in these plans provide insight into what local governments feel they have the ability to undertake, as well as what actions they believe are important to building resilience. To date, little to no analysis has been conducted on the content of these plans, leaving researchers, practitioners, and those supporting communities with limited understanding of what gaps need to be filled or how best to support locally prioritized climate action. This paper analyzes the content of 43 stand alone climate adaptation plans from US local communities to identify the types of actions proposed and how those actions compare to what researchers indicate the communities should be prioritizing based on regional climate projections. The results indicate that local communities include numerous and varied actions in their adaptation plans and that the majority of communities are selecting actions that are theoretically appropriate given projected changes in regional climate. Yet some types of actions, such as building codes and advocacy, are not being widely used. These results contrast with previous studies, which found that local communities focus primarily on capacity building approaches. Findings also demonstrate that plans rarely contain significant details about how actions will be implemented, raising questions about whether plans will translate into real-world projects.


Stults, M. & Woodruff, S.C. Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Change (2016). doi:10.1007/s11027-016-9725-9

About us

Established in 2010, GCAP (http://climateadaptation.cc) ranks among the top 10 leading climate think tanks globally, providing knowledge services related to national adaptation investment and finance, climate economics, climate adaptation strategy and planning and climate risk screening.  A world class organisation, we support managers holding over $1 billion in funds.  Our flagship, Oxford Adaptation Academy (http://www.climateadaptation.cc/our-work/adaptation-academy), is a unique incubator for leadership and innovation within the field of climate adaptation.

Dr Graham Wilson leads the personal development and leadership strand of the Adaptation Academy.  With a background in ethology and behavioural science, he is an Executive, Leadership and Political Confidant, Tutor in Psychology and Counselling with the University of Oxford, and Co-Director of the Oxford Adaptation Academy.  His research interests include coaching and visual anthropology.  [LinkedIn = http://tinyurl.com/drgwli]

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