How Are We Adapting to Climate Change?

There is an increasing amount of attention being paid to climate change adaptation — the changes that communities in high-risk areas need to adopt in order to protect themselves from the expected impacts of climate change and minimize damage.  We took a look at existing information and efforts and have put together a few highlights and some links to help you connect with more information.


  • According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “The Northeast is already experiencing changes consistent with global warming: rising temperatures, decreasing snow cover, and earlier arrival of spring.” p1
  • According to another report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Boston and coastal communities throughout Massachusetts are expected to be impacted by climate change in a variety of ways, such as:
    • Heightened degree and frequency of coastal flooding, erosion, and damage to property due to sea-level rise;
    • Property insurance denial due to high-risk of certain locations;
    • Worsened air quality due to increase in ozone forming pollutants; and
    • Greater needs for agriculture industry due to increased frequency of droughts.


  • In 2009 President Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13514 on Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance, which sought “to make reduction of greenhouse gas emissions a priority for Federal agencies” and foster active involvement in the interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force.
  • Three years ago, in the summer of 2009, as part of the Global Warming Solutions Act, MA Governor Deval Patrick appointed an advisory committee to assess climate change adaptation strategies to provide recommendations for how to enhance the Commonwealth’s economy while meeting the demands that climate change is expected to bring: protection of coastlines, resources, and infrastructure.
  • Last year in fall 2011, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Adaptation Advisory Committee produced a Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report.  A few key points contained in the report:
    • “A sea level rise of 0.65 meters (26 inches) in Boston by 2050 could damage assets worth an estimated $463 billion (Lenton et al., 2009). Evacuation costs alone in the Northeast region resulting from sea level rise and storms during a single event could range between $2 billion and $6.5 billion (Ruth et al., 2007).” p2
    • “The need to perform risk and vulnerability assessments was widely recognized across all sectors. These assessments determine levels of susceptibility and exposure to and impacts of climate change among people, physical structures and assets, natural resources and the environment, economic conditions, and other resources and interests.” p3
    • It is crucial that Massachusetts take steps to protect and restore natural habitats and watersheds.
    • “Government officials and emergency response crews at all levels should assess and enhance emergency management tools and capabilities such as the State Risk Assessment Inventory, the State Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan, the State Hazard Mitigation Plan, and mapping and information systems in order to respond to climate change.” p3
  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommends a series of measures to minimize exposure and enhance resilience to climate extremes, including “early-warning systems, innovations in insurance coverage, improvements in infrastructure, and the expansion of social safety nets.” p1
  • ICLEI – Governments for Sustainability, through its Cities for Climate Protection (CCP) campaign, suggests a 5-part framework:
    • Conduct a baseline emissions inventory and forecast
    • Set an emissions reduction goal
    • Create a local action plan
    • Implement policies and measures
    • Monitor and verify results
  • Despite several devastating natural events in recent years, property owners have been slow to take measures to reduce losses.  Writers of a 2009 report by Resources for the Future recommended, “that Congress and the Administration revise the 1968?established National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which covers more than $1.2 trillion of assets today, by moving from annual insurance contracts to long?term policies tied to property. Such a change will encourage people in high risk areas to think more about the long?term and invest in cost?effective adaptation measures that reduce losses from future floods and hurricanes.” p2  Flood insurance is required in order to obtain a federally insured mortgage, so home buyers often purchase it initially, but do not maintain the coverage, which has resulted in many people being uninsured when disaster hits.

Massachusetts has a lot at stake.  As recent dramatic weather events have demonstrated, there are serious consequences for individuals, communities, businesses, and natural resources when weather events dominate.  There are measures that can be taken both to mitigate climate change and to adapt so that damage is minimized.  Swift action is needed in order to prepare Massachusetts for what is expected to come our way over the next several years.  While there is of course a cost to action, it’s important that we also think about the cost of inaction.  In meeting the challenges that climate change poses, we have opportunities to take advantage of, such as investing in and benefiting from energy efficiency and renewable energy.


Adaptation Efforts, EPA New England

Climate Ready Estuaries & Water Supplies

Boston Complete Streets, City of Boston

A sustainable approach to transportation planning and implementation

Boston Harbor Sea Level Rise Maps, The Boston Harbor Association

See the impact of flooding above mean high tide on the Boston Harbor coastline

Climate Change Research, Initiatives & News, MassDEP

Climate Choices, a project of the Union of Concerned Scientists

Impacts, Solutions, Action, and Resources

Federal Actions for a Climate Resilient Nation, Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force

Global Climate Change Impacts in the US (2009), US Global Change Research Program

Report about climate change impacts in different US regions and on various elements of society and the economy, including energy, water, agriculture, and health

Green Economy in a Blue World, United Nations Environment Programme

Report focusing on needs and opportunities for marine-related industries and resources

Greenovate Boston, City of Boston

Movement to ensure a greener, healthier, and more prosperous future for the city by meeting Mayor Menino’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 25% by 2020

ICLEI Climate Program, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability

Mitigation, Adaptation, and Advocacy

Legal Solutions to Coastal Climate Change Adaptation in Connecticut, University of Connecticut

2012 conference presentations, some of which look to Boston as a leader

Northeast Climate Science Center, U.S. Department of the Interior

Scientific information, tools, and techniques to anticipate, monitor, and adapt to climate change

Rising to the Challenge: Assessing the Massachusetts Response to Climate Change (2012), MassINC

Analysis of what the state is doing (and could do) to meet the reduction targets the state is legally obligated to achieve

Risks of Sea Level Rise to Disadvantaged Communities in the United States

Report connects sea level rise and environmental justice

State Adaptation Reports, Center for Climate & Energy Solutions

Inventory of state adaptation reports – about 1/3 of US States have an adaptation plan completed or in progress

U.S. Climate Action Report 2010, United States Department of State

Includes policies, projected emissions, vulnerability assessments, financial resources, outreach, and more

3 replies on “How Are We Adapting to Climate Change?”

  1. I’ve not read all the links, but is there discussion of how a higher sea level backs up flood plains?

    And are we using some of these predictions to be proactive in revising flood plains for new construction, especially new municipal construction? I’m thinking in particular of Belmont High School, but it is surely not the only example.

  2. David, I think you will find this article on point. Rising sea level a threat to East:

    Here are a couple excerpts:

    “In Boston, officials have begun mapping low-lying areas and critical systems that are most likely to be inundated. The maps show that if sea levels rise just 2.5 feet, it could take little more than a Nor’easter to put much of the Back Bay, East Boston, South Boston, Chelsea, Cambridge, and elsewhere underwater, including much of Logan International Airport and the financial district.”

    “In recent years, state officials have changed codes to require developers building in areas prone to coastal flooding to erect the lowest floor of any new development or substantial renovation at least 2 feet above where water levels now rise during the most powerful storms. The state also now requires development projects in flood zones to be able to withstand sea-level rise for the life of the buildings.”

    More to come on this topic.

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