There are 540 local and county governments in California, all with differing levels of capability for implementing climate change adaptation actions. It is critically important to develop ways to assist local governments in their effort to understand and overcome barriers to climate change adaptation financing and implementation. While climate change is a global problem, its impacts will be felt locally and adaptation measures will need to be implemented locally in a way that is sensitive to context in terms of geography, ecology, and the social, economic, and political situation.
Faced with increasing climate extremes and emerging climate change impacts, local governments in California are eager to advance their preparedness measures and take action to build local resilience. However, as previous studies and day-to-day interactions with local leaders make clear, determining how to fund adaptation planning and implementation is frequently a significant barrier to progress. Local governments often take the lead in identifying adaptation needs and options, and are then required to find external funds or devise locally acceptable financing mechanisms to implement them. Many local governments are struggling to identify or create sufficient funding streams to realize adaptation strategies.
During the 3rd California Climate Assessment, Dr. Julia Ekstrom and Dr. Susanne Moser determined that institutional and governance barriers are – at this early stage of adaptation – the main barriers faced by local governments. Institutional barriers can delay or prevent local governments from moving from planning to implementation. Overcoming institutional barriers to climate change adaptation is an essential step toward implementing a full suite of climate change adaptation strategies, and while preliminary work has been completed in the Bay Area and for coastal jurisdictions, there has been no comprehensive assessment of local government adaptation barriers throughout the state. Also, the development of solutions to overcome these local-level barriers is at best in the early stages.
While many guides are available to help communities conduct climate change vulnerability assessments and develop adaptation plans, including California’s own comprehensive Adaptation Planning Guide, there are no guides to help agencies take the next step of increasing their institutional capacity for implementing adaptation strategies. Climate change adaptation is still at an early stage of development and implementation in most locations; it is not yet a “mature” effort compared with other more traditional programs within local governments. Guidance on assessing and overcoming common institutional barriers would help agencies avoid common stumbling blocks and provide them with tools to accelerate the pace of implementing adaptation.