Author: Christina Mills

RFP Guidance

Climate change adaptation or resilience planning is a relatively new field. Hiring a consultant to oversee resilience planning can be very helpful, but because of the nascence of the field, there is significant variation from one consultant to another. Consultants may use different types of data and information, they may have different steps in the process, and they can produce quite a range of planning products. Professional certification in climate adaptation planning is rare, but becoming more common over time, which will help to create more consistency and standards. Because the field is still in flux, it can be difficult to assess whether a consultant will follow generally accepted resilience planning principles.

If you are hiring consulting services and want to secure the tenets of Whole Community Resilience planning, consider including the following in your RFP:

Local Climate Change Projections

austin map avg temp1. Base planning on climate projections

Using the latest models, from a reputable source, create projections using one of three approaches:

  • Scenario planning (creating climate storylines to help planners develop strategies that work across different possible future conditions);
  • Bracketing (looking at 3–4 models that, specific to your region, represent the hotter, less hot, wetter, and drier extremes as well as the middle ground); or
  • Ensembles based on 10 or more models and with consideration/explanation of variation among models (such as the 5th and 95th percentiles) and full range of potential projections.

2. Utilize higher emissions pathways

For climate resilience purposes, using RCP 8.5 (higher emissions) is appropriate at this time, because it is representative of the path the global community is currently on. By planning for higher emissions, the consultant will be less likely to underestimate the impacts (and create a lack of preparedness). It is also useful to have the consultant compare RCP 8.5 to RCP 4.5, as RCP 4.5 represents drastic emissions reductions. This can help people understand the significant value, both in lives and money, in reducing emissions.

3. Assess historic trends, future projections, and extreme events specific to your community

Have your RFP reviewed by trusted scientists and experts familiar with existing stressors, climate change impacts, and natural systems in the planning area. They can help to identify which climate extremes (e.g. heat waves, floods, crop freezes, forest fires, and other events) are most relevant to your community.

4. Require communication materials for laypeople

Climate change projections in a format the public and local leaders can understand are critically important. Oftentimes, projections are provided, but without an explanation of how to use them, how to manage uncertainty, and what they mean at the local level. These materials can also be made available in a dynamic online format that can be widely distributed. (Example:

Vulnerability Assessment

rsz img 26491. Use a science-based process

Many climate resilience projects fail to link the climate projections (as detailed above) to specific and locally-relevant climate change risks to the community. Ensure that the RFP asks for a vulnerability assessment that identifies, categorizes, and prioritizes risks across all sectors of the community based on exposure (assessed using climate change projections), sensitivity, and adaptive capacity.

2. Hold a highly collaborative and cross-sector process

Require that the resilience planning process include one or more workshops that engage local experts from all community sectors to identify and prioritize vulnerabilities. The five community systems to engage across include:

  • built (buildings, roads, bridges, water, energy, etc.)
  • social (health, emergency response, vulnerable populations, etc.)
  • cultural (native American tribes, minority or disadvantaged communities, etc.)
  • economic (tourism, agriculture, forestry, technology, and other economic drivers)
  • natural (aquatic, marine, and terrestrial ecosystems; endangered species)

In addition, be sure and include efforts to address ongoing chronic community challenges, such as poverty, unemployment, flooding, health issues, or pollution in the planning process. Many co-benefits of climate change resilience measures will include solutions to these stressors as well.

Resilience Planning and Implementation

1. Focus on co-benefits and cross-sector collaboration

Work with the contractor to facilitate a cross-sector workshop to collaboratively develop strategies that address key vulnerabilities identified in the Vulnerability Assessment. This workshop should involve both formal and informal leaders of the community, including city staff, business leaders, faith communities, schools, emergency response professionals, public health professionals, tribal leaders, natural resource scientists and managers, NGOs, social equity leaders, climate scientists, and many others. Invitees should relevant local expertise and knowledge to contribute to the process.

2. Require implementation details

  • Prioritization of strategies based on mid- to long-term goals and objectives, local values, protection of vulnerable populations and resources, effectiveness, and viability over time
  • Consideration of impacts to future populations and resources alongside impacts to current residents
  • Implementation steps, timeline, and responsible entities identified, as well as points of integration into existing community governance systems
  • Integration with efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • Monitoring and assessment plan to assess progress, incorporate new information, and evaluate outcomes
  • Dynamic framework that revisits goals, objectives, vulnerabilities, and actions over time as new information becomes available (recommend 3-5 years)

Community-wide engagement

acc scott1. Create buy in through engagement

Ask your contractors to build awareness of climate-related risks, challenges and vulnerabilities. Continue to engage with community members so that there is support for implementation.

2. Ensure community input and collective decision-making

It is important to acknowledge that local community members are the experts on a variety of issues. Have the contractor design engagement to solicit information from the community, particularly those who are traditionally underserved, and use this information in the development of resilience strategies. When asking for community engagement, know that it takes time and trust, so adjust your budget and timeline accordingly.


1. Be realistic

Set a realistic timeline (generally at least 12 months) that allows your consultant to create a high quality product and for your community to develop the relationships that are essential for effective community involvement in the process and eventual implementation.

Climate Ready Communities at the California Adaptation Forum

cw caf2018California leads the nation in both requiring climate change adaptation action by local communities as well as supporting local leaders so they can be effective in taking that action. Our team headed to Sacramento for the three day conference hoping to not only share our Climate Ready Communities program, but also to hear what new innovations are being developed in California that could be used elsewhere.

The fires and mudslides in California are confirming what we have known for several years in the adaptation field – people who are already struggling due to low-income, systemic racism, disability, and language barriers are hit the hardest by climate disruption and have a harder time recovering. This fact is putting a fine point on the need to integrate these under-resourced communities into the adaptation planning process so that their needs can be fully met through community action.

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Climate Adaptation: The State of Practice in U.S. Communities

The Kresge Foundation has released a report “Climate Adaptation: The State of Practice in U.S. Communities” – the result of a two-year process that brought together climate change adaptation leaders from around the country with researchers from Abt Consulting to take a snapshot of adaptation in the U.S.

Through assessing 17 case studies, interviewing 50 thought leaders, and hosting 3 day-long Project Advisory Committee meetings, the research team pulled insights from across the field to try to get a handle on what we are learning from the various ways that adaptation has been tried in different regions in the U.S. 

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Tillamook Estuaries Partnership – Project Dashboard

Begins January 2017

Bay City Oregon sunset Credit Aaron ZahrowskiLocated on the North Coast of Oregon, the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership is dedicated to protecting and restoring five Tillamook County estuaries and watersheds. The Geos Institute is thrilled to have the opportunity to assist the TEP in conducting a Vulnerability Assessment to assess climate risks to Tillamook Bay resources, including wildlife, fisheries, forestry, and water. We will follow the process outlined in the EPA’s workbook on developing Risk-based Adaptation Plans to identify risks and prioritize them for action. Tillamook Bay Bay City Oregon ZahrowskiBased on those findings, we will develop an Adaptation Strategy for the region.

The ClimateWise process that we will be using is highly collaborative and relies on stakeholder participation and local expertise. We welcome participants from a variety of backgrounds and areas of interest. For more information, please contact Dr. Marni Koopman at 541-482-4459 x303 or

Project Timeline

February  Project organization and planning
March  Kickoff meeting
March  Climate science review
March – April  Produce climate impacts report
April  Small group expert consultations
June  Vulnerability Workshop for stakeholders
August  Preliminary Vulnerability Report
October  Expert consultations on adaptation
October  Adaptation Strategy workshop for stakeholders
November.  Final report and release

Additional resources

Ashland moves towards a science-based climate action plan

Communities around the U.S. already have, or are currently developing, greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets to combat climate change. teal chart iconAnd yet these targets and timelines are highly variable from plan to plan, based on politics, attitudes, and planning approach.

The City of Ashland’s Climate and Energy Action Plan (CEAP) Ad-hoc committee, which is made up of community members with diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise, voted unanimously to adopt science-based greenhouse gas emissions targets.

What are Science-Based Targets?

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Over 400 ppm for the rest of our lives

The world is quickening the rate of accumulation of CO2, and has shown no signs of slowing this down. It [surpassing 400ppm] should be a psychological tripwire for everyone.
Dr. Michael Gunson, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

CO2 concentration Mauna Loa Observatory
The global concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide now stands at 404.83 ppm as of a July 10, 2016 reading at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. To put this in perspective, climate scientists have been warning that a safe concentration for the Earth’s natural systems and all of us who depend on them is 350 parts per million, which we passed around 1990.

Many advocacy groups and climate scientists around the world had hoped to limit atmospheric carbon dioxide to less than 400 parts per million through efforts to reduce emissions, and then to work to bring that number down to the scientifically-determined “safe” level of 350. But we have collectively not done enough to keep from catapulting over that 400 ppm line.

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Integrating Equity into Climate Change Adaptation

nola flooding post katrinaWe developed our ClimateWise® program in 2008 to help communities develop solutions to climate change that meet the needs of both people and nature. We work with communities to develop solutions across 5 different systems (human, built, economic, natural, and cultural) ensuring through our process that all have a seat at the planning table.

Since that time, we have been thrilled to see the adaptation field embracing many new and innovative strategies to meeting human needs while also protecting and enhancing natural systems. What we have yet to see is the adaptation field taking the same level of action to address the disproportionate impact that climate change has on already disadvantaged people and using action on climate change as a vehicle to improve equity within our communities. In fact, in a review of 800+ individual adaptation strategies in recent city, county, and agency adaptation plans, we found that only 3 created explicit benefits for disadvantaged people.

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Climate Change Action and Planning in Ashland, Oregon

ashland ceap header

The Geos Institute has been working in our own backyard and helping the residents of Ashland, Oregon address climate change. We are currently focused on three endeavors:

  • Ashland’s Climate and Energy Action Planning Process
  • Climate Change Vulnerability in Ashland the Rogue Valley (a Geos Institute report)
  • The Ashland Climate Challenge

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Adaptation and Mitigation: Two halves of the whole solution to climate change

mitigation adaptation circleAs names for concepts go, climate change “adaptation” and “mitigation” are terrible choices. When we think of responding to climate change, “adaptation,” while uninspiring, makes some sense. But “mitigation” is a head scratcher – not because it is incorrect (technically to mitigate is to make something less severe, serious, or painful), but because in everyday conversation it brings to mind building a new wetland to “mitigate” the damage done by a housing development.

But for climate change, it means something entirely different. And it is important that we understand the difference between these two strategies and how they are both necessary to create a holistic and effective response to climate change.

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