Taking it to the Next Level: Looking from the 2015 National Adaptation Forum towards the 2016 California Adaptation Forum

by Kif Scheuer

participantsIt’s been almost a year since the first California Adaptation Forum was held in Sacramento. As intended LGC is alternating CAF years with the National Adaptation Forum, so we can compliment the national dialogue on adaptation with our state efforts. In line with this we want to share some reflections on the recent National Adaptation Forum as considerations for the next California Adaptation Forum, which we are excited to will be held on September 6th and 7th in Long Beach. If you want to be notified as the program develops, sign up on the Forum website – CaliforniaAdaptationForum.org.

The 2015 National Adaptation Forum attracted over 800 people to St. Louis for two days of learning and networking. Compared to the first National Forum in 2013, this event was not only larger, but also more diverse in terms of attendees and subject matter, with a much greater emphasis on public sector and urban topics. Equity in adaptation was another outstanding element of the program, with a number of key sessions highlighting the risks to vulnerable populations as well as case studies highlighting successful engagement campaigns from diverse communities around the United States. Given the complexity of climate impacts and the challenges in tracking action, it was no surprise that many attendees were also very engaged in the sessions that addressed indicators of climate change or methods to measure and track adaptation activities.

As only the second national forum on adaptation, it was a foundational event, and one that will shape the dialogue around adaptation in a significant way. I particularly enjoyed spending time with the many Californians who came to St. Louis, as it provided some focused time to discuss our own needs and reflect on how much we are doing, while also challenging us to do more in the coming years. With that in mind, here are some of the key themes from the National Adaptation Forum that the LGC team will be considering so we can take CAF2016 to the next level.

Diversity and Equity

Adaptation affects everyone, but not everyone is affected equally. The NAF greatly improved on their first year in terms of diversity of participation, they clearly were working hard to integrate more participants, and raise the bar on issues of diversity and equity. However we still have a long way to go to integrate the range of voices that are going to be affected by climate change. As California makes more of an effort to integrate disadvantaged communities into it’s climate change response – in particular through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) – issues of equity and vulnerability are becoming more visible, but not without complications. As an example, the use of CalEnviroScreen as the basis for determining “disadvantaged” status for the GGRF has been questioned by various stakeholders because of regional or issue biases built into the tool’s methods. Building climate action at a pace and scale that can respond to the crisis we face, while not losing sight of local needs and voices, will be a persistent challenge to address, but is one we must take on.

Decision Support

The several available sessions on climate change indicators at NAF were enticing, but also frustrating because of the relatively nascent state of the field. For example, a session that highlighted some analytic frameworks  (an international database of resiliency, a conservation land use assessment method and a commercial sector analysis of resileincy) left me with more questions than answers. It seems as if we need a standard of practice in measurement and a protocol for decision support that is reasonable for local governments and others to use, but somehow integrates the vast and complex body of data needed to inform such decisions. Such a resource is obviously expensive to produce, and is not something that can or should be developed by a small or local entity. Can we imagine the state or federal government developing a tool that can manage the necessary complexity without breaking down the capacities and resources of the folks who need the results so desperately?  This data to practice gap is something we need to close if we want local practitioners to really make progress.


I was also drawn to presentations that focused on collaboration that brought together key stakeholders to work on adaptation at the local level. In particular, I got a lot out of a session on a community in North Carolina that combined Hazard Mitigation Planning with Economic Development Planning. They identified a number of ways to leverage the approaches and expertise of these distinct plans (and planning processes) to improve both efforts. This session highlighted how some relatively modest coordination and cross-sector engagement can avoid a lot of duplication and potentially unlocks new methods and value systems that can greatly benefit the end product.  It also highlighted how resiliency might be built upon existing planning practices – we don’t necessarily need new plans – but we do need to expand the inputs and considerations for any existing plans if we are going to make them relevant to adaptation efforts.

We need stronger regional and local networks

Adapting to climate change requires breaking down silos and building new solutions – at home. I think we need a national event. For now the field is too immature not to bring folks together nationally. We will always need to know what is happening across the country and meet with national colleagues on some level. But I can imagine that over time the role for national discussions like this will evolve, perhaps towards a leadership / strategy convening for the movement as a whole, rather than the place to get access to local case studies and practitioners (which we hope become more visible through other means). What this means for a statewide forum in California is also interesting. Should we be supporting a number of sub-state forums as was recently held in Sonoma County? How do local initiatives fit into statewide efforts? These are important questions to tease out over time.

Stay Tuned

Fortunately, we have an opportunity to advance California’s conversation on climate adaptation. As an affiliate of the National Adaptation Forum, the California Adaptation Forum will provide practitioners and stakeholders a central place to consider these and other issues. In the coming months as our team engages in planning for CAF 2016 in we will be thinking about how to engage our community across California – and we invite you to join us in this effort. Share your ideas with us for the Forum; start talking with your colleagues about what you want to bring to Long Beach; when we open the call for session proposals share your stories and great ideas, but most of all – save the date and sign up here: CaliforniaAdaptationForum.org.

See you in September!