Preparing for Climate Change: A Guidebook for Local, Regional, and State Governments

This guidebook was developed by the Climate Impacts Group (CIG) at the University of Washington and King County, Washington, in association with ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability. The purpose of the guide is to help decision-makers in a local, regional, or state government prepare for climate change by recommending a detailed process for climate change preparedness based on familiar resources and tools.

The guidebook notes that the preparedness process can be tailored for implementation across communities, within a single community, or even within an individual agency or department in the U.S. or elsewhere. The user may also choose to tailor the process based on resource availability or other factors; strategies for working with limited resources are offered at various points in the guidebook. Although the guidebook is written for local, regional, and state governments in the U.S., the fundamental principles can also be applied in tribal governments, non-governmental organizations, and private sector businesses sensitive to climate change.

The guidebook begins with an introduction from King County Executive Ron Sims, which highlights both the urgent responsibility and opportunity for public decision-makers to prepare for climate change now and in the coming decades. Chapter 2 provides a short overview of the science of global climate change and its projected national and regional consequences. Chapter 3 offers reasons why local, regional, and state decision-makers should prepare proactively for the impacts of climate change to their communities.  

Chapter 4 through 7 provide suggestions on the critical steps to take to initiate a climate resiliency effort. Specifically, these chapters recommend how to:

  • scope the climate change impacts to major sectors (Chapter 4),
  • build and maintain support among stakeholders to prepare for climate change (Chapter 5),
  • build a climate change preparedness team (Chapter 6), and
  • identify planning areas relevant to climate change impacts (Chapter 7).

Chapter 8 and Chapter 9 next offer recommendations on how to identify the priority planning areas for action, including how to:

  • conduct a vulnerability assessment based on climate change projections for the region, the sensitivity of each planning area to climate change impacts, and the ability of the community to adapt to climate change impacts (Chapter 8);
  • conduct a risk assessment based on the consequences, magnitude, and probability of climate change impacts, as well as on an evaluation of risk tolerance and community values (Chapter 9).

Chapter 10 guides development of a climate change plan for the identified priority planning areas, including how to:

  • establish a vision and guiding principles for a climate resilient community;
  • set preparedness goals in each priority planning area based on these guiding principles; and
  • to develop, select, and prioritize possible preparedness actions.

Chapter 11 then provides guidance on implementing the climate change preparedness plan, including how to:

  • identify a list of important implementation tools, and 
  • develop an understanding of how to manage risk and uncertainty in the planning effort.

Chapter 12 offers guidance on measuring progress and updating plans, including how to:

  • develop measures of resilience, and use these to track the results of your actions over time
  • review your assumptions and other essential information to ensure that your work remains relevant to the community’s most salient climate change impacts, and
  • to update plans regularly.

Chapter 13 provides final thoughts on how to prepare for climate change effectively and establish a lasting positive influence.

 The content of this guidebook was developed from reviews of scientific literature, the Climate Impacts Group’s experience working with U.S. Pacific Northwest decision-makers on preparing for climate change, and King County, Washington’s experience developing and implementing a climate change preparedness plan. ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability also provided guidance based on its Climate Resilient Communities Program, its Five Milestones process for climate change adaptation, and its extensive experience with local and regional governments.



Publication Date: September 2007

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User Comments:

  • April 23, 2018
    Andrea Webster, Implementation Manager

    The document recognizes the need to scale your response based on community and government perceptions of the need to prepare, as well as on how impacted your community will be by climate change. The resource is old (published in 2007), but still has plenty of useful content for sizes and locations of communities. For example, I am located in Indiana, and I can see how it would be useful to Indiana communities.