Strategy 5: Adapt Everywhere

Empower Local Adaptation

Keeping all options on the table will reduce costs and minimize the unwanted side effects of adaptation. Short-term options, such as building sea walls, should be used alongside long-term options, like relocation, to keep communities flexible. Planners should learn from one another and share what has worked well. When adapting to impacts can also improve health, create jobs, and advance justice, it should be prioritized.

Employees from the Missoula Field Office in Montana plant bitterbrush shrubs on Bureau of Land Management lands at Marcum Mountain in an effort to enhance and restore wildlife habitat with native plants. Photo credit: Bureau of Land Management / Bill Hensley and Michael Albritton

Adaptation to climate change will involve large social and economic disruptions. It will be hard to predict exactly which adaptation option will work best in different circumstances. Narrowing the range of options will increase costs, decrease success, and magnify the negative impacts of chosen adaptation technology for frontline communities. Some climate impacts can be prevented using approaches that have long been available, such as early-warning systems and upgraded disaster preparation and response. Other adaptation approaches are broadly acceptable but require substantial capital, including those custom designed to address local risks (such as sea walls or cooling centers) and those that support vibrant economies and ecosystems while also building future resilience. Long-term options must be more transformative to cope with climate impacts’ magnitude and disruptive nature. These will include strategies for relocation, reconstructing ecosystems, and rethinking the relationship between people and the environment.

Invest in learning and sharing promising practices for balanced adaptation strategies across communities.

While specific hazard responses and broad resilience investments can be effective, the United States will benefit most from balancing both approaches, and adjusting the balance according to community needs and circumstances. For example, a community that invests in both gray infrastructure (such as levies and sewer systems) and green infrastructure (such as restoring wetlands) may be better able to withstand floods than a community that only invests in traditional approaches.[i] Similarly, investing in fire-resistant building codes and early-warning systems may offer better wildfire protection than focusing solely on thinning forests.[ii] Considering climate adaptation in existing infrastructure development can make resilience more cost-effective and efficient: for example, after Hurricane Katrina, builders used more resilient designs and incorporated green infrastructure in the construction of new industrial plants.[iii] Balancing responses also reduces the negative impacts of specific hazard responses and helps prevent the most vulnerable communities from being unduly impacted.

As the correct balance of adaptation strategies is unknowable at the outset, government and philanthropy must support coordinated efforts to fund adaptation experiments and share promising practices across communities. The Kresge Foundation’s Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity Initiative funded both direct adaptation efforts as well as learning networks for intercommunity dialogue.[iv] Through these networks, communities were able to share not only what combination of adaptation efforts worked well, but also strategies for implementation and evaluation.

Increase incentives and requirements for considering co-benefits in adaptation planning.

The federal and state governments, community development organizations, and philanthropies should invest in strategies that consider comprehensive adaptation efforts with known cobenefits for the environment and human health and well-being. In addition to being lower cost and having high degrees of public support, investing in adaptation options with cobenefits to health and well-being advances environmental justice by addressing the underlying social determinants of health, reducing existing disparities through green infrastructure, and building social cohesion.[v]

Implementing these changes will require a combination of government incentives and increased regulatory requirements. Several states, such as Massachusetts and Minnesota, have adopted the Health in All Policies framework, which incentivizes funding for projects that consider the impacts of climate policies and projects on the determinants of health.[vi] This framework also creates accountability metrics to measure and evaluate project performance.

[i] Alida Alves, Berry Gersonius, Zoran Kapelan, et al., “Assessing the Co-Benefits of Green-Blue-Grey Infrastructure for Sustainable Urban Flood Risk Management,” Journal of Environmental Management 239 (2019): 244–254.

[ii] Cristina Linares, Gerardo S. Martinez, Vladimir Kendrovski, and Julio Diaz. “A New Integrative Perspective on Early Warning Systems for Health in the Context of Climate Change,” Environmental Research 187 (2020): 109623.

[iii] Ahmed Mebarki and Bruno Barroca, “Resilience and Vulnerability Analysis for Restoration after Tsunamis and Floods: The Case of Dwellings and Industrial Plants,” in Post-Tsunami Hazard: Reconstruction and Restoration, ed. Vicente Santiago-Fandiño, Yevgeniy A. Kontar, and Yoshiyuki Kaneda (New York: Springer, 2015), 237–258,

[iv] See The Kresfe Foundation, “Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity (CRUO),” (accessed June 12, 2023).

[v] Christiane Reif and Daniel Osberghaus, “Economic Assessment of Co-Benefits of Adaptation to Climate Change,” Ancillary Benefits of Climate Policy: New Theoretical Developments and Empirical Findings, ed. Wolfgang Buchholz, Anil Markandya, Dirk Rübbelke, and Stefan Vögele (New York: Springer, 2020): 197–212.

[vi] See National Association of County and City Health Officials, “Health in All Policies,” (accessed June 12, 2023).