Develop Policy & Objectives

Establish a climate adaptation vision statement. Ideally, it should incorporate values that are important to the community while also communicating the purpose and intended outcome of the climate adaptation plan.
Develop a list of adaptation goals and objectives to achieve the vision. Goals are general statements about the expectations of a program or plan (e.g. Increasing adaptive responses to extreme weather events), whereas objectives are the steps that represent the path towards achieving the goal (e.g. Identify possible heat refuge sites for citizens).
Identify and articulate the potential community-specific benefits and outcomes of adaptation planning. Considerations include: insuring against risk, reducing vulnerability, creating opportunities, reducing long-term costs, and reducing risk.

As climate change will affect a broad range of municipal assets and government services, operations and policy areas, preparing for climate change is a matter of risk management and good governance. Municipal governments have the responsibility of ensuring the safety, health and welfare of their communities both now and in the future.

From the ICLEI Changing Communities guide, climate change presents a variety of challenges for the physical infrastructure of communities. Expected climate changes will increase maintenance and protection costs, replacement costs and the loss of assets across the country. Physical systems can include: dykes, culverts, roadways, bridges, buildings, sewer systems, and levees.

Adaptation to climate change can include any activity that reduces the negative impacts of climate change and/or takes advantage of new opportunities that may be presented. Climate change, unlike most other public priorities, will directly or indirectly affect a broad range of resources and activities in the public sector (from water resources and land use planning to public health and emergency management). Climate change impacts are also heavily locally dependent. Regional climate projections along with risk and vulnerability assessments are needed to inform priority assets and focus areas. As climate change will affect a broad range of community assets and government services, adapting to climate change is a matter of “good government” and risk management in an effort to ensuring the safety, health and welfare of communities now and into the future. In order to reduce the communities’ vulnerabilities, public decision-makers must ensure a positive lasting influence on their communities’ so that future generations do not bear the worst effects of climate change.

Establish a Climate Action Vision

ICLEI’s Changing Climate, Changing Communities Guide is a milestone-based framework to help communities develop adaptation plans.  Pg. 47-48 outlines on establishing a vision, goals and objectives for adaptation:

Establishing a vision for the adaptation plan provides an opportunity to integrate adaptation goals into the broader vision of the entire community. This is not a necessary step; however it is a useful exercise and will help the community set adaptation goals and objectives a little later on. Engaging the community in visioning exercises may help to solidify their support and commitment to climate change adaptation.

An adaptation vision is a statement on where the community should be in the future with regard to climate change adaptation. For local governments embarking on the adaptation planning process a vision will help to: establish what a climate resilient community looks like; articulate where the community will be in the future; set parameters for which to scope vulnerability and risk assessments against; and will be something to refer back to throughout the planning process and while implementing adaptation actions.

A vision statement also acts as a call to action and can be a catalyst to inspire change; as such it is an important element to include in the adaptation policy. Ideally, it should incorporate the values that are important to the community while also communicating the purpose and intended outcome of the climate adaptation policy.

Key questions to consider while establishing the vision:

  • What is trying to be accomplished with the climate change adaptation policy?
  • What does a well-adapted community look like?
  • What sort of climate change impacts will affect the region?
  • Who is the target audience: council, stakeholders, and/or citizens
  • Will the Adaptation Policy be a key public document?

Conduct a Risk and Vulnerability Assessment

Before setting goals and objectives, it is important to be know what the baseline conditions are, the expected impacts of climate change on a local scale, and the associated risks to community and corporate assets.  Risk and Vulnerability Assessments are important tools to support decision-making undertaken for different purposes. They can be used to identify main risks and impacts on people, regions and sectors as well as their vulnerability so that resources are allocated accordingly; they can be used in the design of adaptation policies and projects, and to establish a baseline against which the success of adaptation policies can be monitored.

The Fifth Assessment of the IPCC Working Group II (AR5) has recently integrated vulnerability into the overall risk assessment that may increase or decrease a particular hazard.  The figure below illustrates the process of determining climate change risks, considering vulnerability and other factors.

Consult’s repository of risk and vulnerability assessments to inform development of a locally applicable assessment.

Setting Adaptation Goals and Objectives


Once the vision is completed, an adaptation team should be formed to develop adaptation goals. The size of the planning team depends on the scope of the planning process and should strike a balance between ensuring adequate representation—from different departments including engineering planning, public works/operations, asset management, forestry, and utilities.

Goals should be phrased in reference to the climatic changes that are threatening the community. They will act as high-level intentions that a community will strive towards. Goals are general statements about the expectations of a policy, program, or plan, for example:

  • Increasing public awareness of climate change and its projected impacts on our community
  • Increasing technical capacity to prepare for climate change impacts
  • Increasing adaptive capacity of built, natural and human systems in our community


Now that community goals have been identified, specific objectives can be set. Objectives refer to the ways in which the community intends to overcome the impacts that have been identified and represent the path towards achieving the vision. Some objectives might be specific, while others might be broad and thus more challenging to measure. Wherever possible, objectives should be strategically designed such that they can be implemented, measured, and monitored moving forward.  Remember that adaptation objectives will vary from one community to another based on a variety of factors, including: types and magnitude of projected climatic changes and impacts; level of support for adaptation efforts; and service areas on which the community has direct influence. Some examples of objectives include:

  • Expand and diversify water supply
  • Increased drought preparedness
  • Reduce shoreline erosion
  • Reduce the impact of extreme heat events
  • Reduce flooding and erosion impacts on infrastructure
  • Improving energy conservation
  • Lower the ecological footprint of existing buildings
  • Engage energy providers to enhance local renewable energy generation opportunities
  • Support the local agricultural economy
  • Protect local habitats and migration routes

Emerging research suggests that there are many benefits to identifying adaptation strategies that complement mitigation goals, to ensure that local government decision-making reduces vulnerability and emissions. Low carbon resilience (LCR) lens is a lens used to co-evaluate and coordinate adaptation and mitigation, reducing both vulnerability and future emissions. Applying LCR to all aspects of municipal decision-making helps to ensure the efficacy of decisions in rapidly changing times.  The figure below from the Canadian Communities Guidebook pg. 28 is a Methods and Actions guide regarding how to identify objectives of a local adaptation project.

*SAM = Adaptation, mitigation, and sustainable development

Consider a Low Carbon Resilience Approach

Applying a Low Carbon Resilience (LCR) lens integrates climate change adaptation and mitigation planning, rather than the conventional approach of keeping them separate.  Though more efficient, most municipalities will be building in from existing plans or policies, while folding in LCR in an iterative fashion.  For instance, most municipalities have mitigation plans, but many are just starting on adaptation plans, and the LCR processes presented in this section can be applied when renewing mitigation plans.

SFU-ACT’s Resource Page on Low Carbon Resilience notes that:

“An essential part of LCR planning is assessing the interactions between adaptation and mitigation measures, including co-benefits and synergies, as well as trade-offs and conflict. Such an assessment can start with common-sense consideration of potential interactions (“Asking the Climate Question”), including seeking input from experts involved with action design and implementation and stakeholders impacted by the climate action. Existing analytic tools (e.g., flood mapping and GHG emissions models) can be applied to determine the GHG and vulnerability/ resilience impacts of various climate actions. ICLEI’s Building Adaptive and Resilient Communities (BARC) Framework includes prioritization of adaptation measures that have GHG reduction potential, or offer other mitigation co-benefits.”

The following table introduces a process model for integrating adaptation and mitigation planning steps through an LCR lens.