Sustainable Washington

3.1 Climate Change Impacts and Hazards

Adaptation as a Response

Much of the attention on climate change has been focused on addressing the causes of global warming, especially emphasizing greenhouse gas reduction, This section will focus on adaptation – planning for the impacts that will happen, based on the built-up greenhouse gases and related climate changes that are already programmed into the global climate system. We must ensure that Washington communities are prepared to deal with the impacts associated with climate change.

Specific impacts anticipated for this region have been summarized in Chapter 2 of this report. Without proper planning for adaptation to the changes that are likely to occur, we can expect that our resources will be increasingly diverted from priorities of improving our communities’ health and welfare to that of responding to ever more frequent and expensive emergencies and disasters. To accomplish this type of planning effectively, we need to establish a foundation of flexibility in regional and local plans, policies, and actions. Mechanisms for change, such as adaptive management, will be key to all planning for climate change.


The following list of actions is separated into three categories: Getting Started, Making a Commitment, and Expanding the Commitment. This categorical approach allows jurisdictions to implement measures that are appropriate to their community’s current level of involvement in climate change and sustainability issues and in consideration of locally adopted plans, codes, regulations, policies and goals.

Getting Started

3.1.1 Understand the potential impacts.

Review and conduct a general survey of potential impacts associated with climate change as they apply to your jurisdiction. Start with broad overviews such as the Preparing for Climate Change guidebook prepared by The Climate Impacts Group. Also see the websites for the UW-Climate Impacts Group and the State’s Climate Advisory Team. (Local Action)

3.1.2 Help educate and involve your community.

Educate your community about current science and research on impacts that may specifically affect your community. Work with existing media and outlets – e.g., newspapers, websites, utility mailings, festivals or events, schools – to “spread the word” and to help develop a public process that enables and encourages public participation. (Local Action)

3.1.3 Survey known hazards.

Survey known hazardous areas (e.g., floodplains, slopes or slide areas, etc.) and identify which may be affected by anticipated climate change impacts. (Local Action)

3.1.4 Review existing hazard and emergency plans.

Review your community’s emergency response plans to assess whether the existing procedures and resources are adequate to meet anticipated needs under climate change scenarios. Identify where you have clear plans and procedures, and where you need to make updates or establish new ones. (Local Action)

Making a Commitment

3.1.5 Assess specific local impacts.

Identify and analyze the specific impacts likely to affect your jurisdiction. This may require an environmental study evaluating existing hazards and environmentally sensitive areas and how these are likely to change in response to climate impacts. For each class of impacts (e.g., sea level rise, increased flooding, increased forest fires, etc.), identify potential scenarios and risk levels over the next 50 years, anticipating potential new or heightened hazard situations likely to result from climate change. (Local and Regional Action)

3.1.6 Apply adaptive management techniques.

Apply an adaptive management approach to planning and resource allocation, using a structured, iterative process aimed at reducing uncertainty over time. A passive approach can emphasize predictive modeling and feedback, with program adjustments made as more information is learned. A more active approach would emphasize experimentation – actively trying different ideas or strategies and evaluating which produces the best results. Key to both approaches is (a) basing plans and programs on multi-scenario uncertainty and feedback, and (b) integrating risk into the analysis. (Local, Regional and State Action)

3.1.7 Expand your existing hazard and response plans to reflect climate change.

Integrate climate change scenarios into hazard mitigation and disaster response plans. Adjust plans to address changes in the frequency or severity of known hazards and to identify potential new hazard areas beyond those already anticipated. (Local Action) See City of Redmond Hazard Mitigation Plan, project example #1.

Expanding the Commitment

3.1.8 Acknowledge and include longer term planning.

Expand your planning horizons beyond short (1-5 year) and medium (5-20 year) time frames to include longer (50+ year) planning horizons. The cumulative impacts and hazards associated with climate change extend well beyond the traditional planning time frames used in state, regional, and local planning, and even under the GMA. (Local, Regional and State Action)

3.1.9 Integrate sensitivity analysis into scenario plans.

Conduct an impact and sensitivity analysis that ties impact scenarios to specific operations, plans and programs. The analysis should identify where changes are needed, how difficult the changes are to make, and a set of priorities for action. (Local, Regional and State Action)

3.1.10 Focus information and commit to staying current.

Establish focused information centers that maintain and expand on the information and activities that are happening locally and in the region. These can be physical (libraries or publication centers) or virtual (websites or blogs). Dedicate resources to stay informed of the current science and other local or regional actions that are being taken. (Local, Regional and State Action)

3.1.11 Re-prioritize funding decisions to support climate action.

Develop implementation actions and regulatory or funding mechanisms to reduce or avoid future hazards. This can range from addressing changes in floodplains or sea levels to understanding the likely changes in frequency and severity of stream flooding and storm runoff. Implementation could take the form of targeting specific areas for special low-impact development (LID) or grant-funded projects. (Local, Regional and State Action)

3.1.12 Integrate emerging climate impacts into capital planning.

Re-assess capital plans and projects to prioritize plans to address emerging threats to critical infrastructure. Updated standards for facilities may justify different rates for impact fees or utility charges. Be critical in your thinking. For example, in some cases, additional maintenance may have lower priority than improvements that will protect against further deterioration of infrastructure. (Local, Regional and State Action)

3.1.13 Update building and zoning codes.

Review and update building codes and land use regulations to add protections or to avoid impacts for the areas identified in hazard planning. An example would be implementing measures to avoid or reduce potential flood impacts in areas likely to see an expansion of the floodplain boundary over time. (Local and State Action)

3.1.14 Update local SEPA and critical areas regulations.

Evaluate and update SEPA rules and critical areas ordinances for their applicability to help avoid or mitigate new climate change impacts. This will require establishing a new policy basis and rules for how these can be applied consistently and predictably. (Local and State Action) Both King County and the City of Seattle have updated their SEPA policies to include evaluations related to climate change. See project example #2.

3.1.15 Emphasize integrated solutions to traditional – and emerging – problems

Adaptive decision-making regarding land use, transportation, and economic and social infrastructure should be integrated and targeted to address emerging adaptation needs while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Single-purpose solutions need to be replaced by integrated systems. For example, traditional approaches to water separate water supply from wastewater conveyance and treatment, while emerging solutions consider water and wastewater as part of a more efficient, integrated system. Provide for “soft” solutions that emphasize:

  • Integrated planning;
  • Adaptive management;
  • Distributed systems that support efficiency and resiliency;
  • Minimize single use, maximize re-use;
  • Minimize the need for treatment by minimizing the level of pollution.

(Local, Regional and State Action)

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