California Climate Adaptation Planning Guide

The California Adaptation Planning Guide (APG) is a tool that local governments and organizations can use to integrate best practices into their adaptation planning efforts. First published in 2012, the guide has since been updated in 2020, and includes an improved step-by-step process communities can use to plan for climate change.  The updated APG reflects the latest best practices, especially in light of the many updates to California’s plans, programs, science, regulations, and policies.

The newest version of the APG provides a background on the original document and discusses the state updates that occured in the following years. These updates include new requirements for local adaptation planning and the release of documents and tools such as California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment, the Safeguarding California Plan: 2018 Update, and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research’s Adaptation Clearinghouse.

The updated APG provides a four-phase process for communities of all sizes and resources to use that can support compliance with the new state requirements or generally enhance resilience. These phases are:

  • Phase 1: Define, Explore, and Initiate,
  • Phase 2: Assess Vulnerability,
  • Phase 3: Define Adaptation Framework and Strategies, and 
  • Phase 4: Implement, Monitor, Evaluate, and Adjust

Every phase is broken down into steps, which include descriptions, goals, examples, and additional resources for the reader to use.

The phases within the updated APG pay particular attention to community outreach and engagement. Additionally, this guide includes a specific section on how equity can be integrated into climate change adaptation planning. In this section, equitable climate adaptation planning is described as “identifying persons who may be most vulnerable to climate change and ensuring that planning processes, distribution of resources, and efforts to address systemic wrongs are all conducted in an equitable manner.” Three types of equity are discussed in this section: procedural equity, distributional equity, and structural equity. The authors also suggest that adaptation planners look to the Integrated Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Program’s (ICARP’s)  resource guide Defining Vulnerable Communities in the Context of Climate Adaptation in order to better understand the elements that characterize vulnerable populations in the adaptation field.


Since the initial release of the APG, it has been widely used by communities, government agencies, tribal governments, and more to help inform adaptation planning efforts. The first version of the APG, published in 2012, was made up of four separate reports. The overview document, "Planning for Adaptive Communities," presented the basis for climate change adaptation planning and introduced a step-by-step process for local and regional climate vulnerability assessment and adaptation strategy development. This guide  contained three companion documents for use in various combinations on an as-needed basis:

  • APG: Defining Local and Regional Impacts (5.8MB) - This document provided a more in-depth understanding of how climate change can affect a community. Seven “impact sectors” are included to support communities conducting a climate vulnerability assessment. 
  • APG: Understanding Regional Characteristics (21.0MB) - Recognizing that the impacts of climate change vary across the state, this document identifies climate impact regions, including their environmental and socioeconomic characteristics. 
  • APG: Identifying Adaptation Strategies (4.7MB) - This document explores potential adaptation strategies that communities can use to meet varying adaptation needs. It includes examples from jurisdictions already pursuing adaptation strategies and offers considerations for tailoring strategies to meet local needs.


Publication Date: June 2020

Related Organizations:

  • California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES)

Related Resources:

Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Planning guides

States Affected:

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