Preparing for a Changing Climate

(Three-Minute Read)

Policy in Brief:

“Preparing for a Changing Climate: The State of Apparition Planning in Maine’s Coastal Communities” addresses the challenges faced by rural coastal communities in Maine which are distinctly different from large urban areas. These challenges are associated with the nature of Maine’s peninsular and island communities, reliance on limited road infrastructure, limited capacity for assessing and responding to climate impacts, and less formal governance structures. Despite these challenges, rural coastal communities in Maine have moved towards specific implementation strategies for addressing climate change. Oftentimes, however, these efforts are stymied by the lack of dedicated funding that would enable coastal communities to be proactive in addressing the physical and social impacts of climate change.

Fascinating Features:

With one of the longest coastlines in the continental United States and with predicted increases in extreme storm events, Maine faces particular challenges in addressing the impacts of climate change.

Maine’s coastal communities face impacts from two climate related threats, one punctuated and one longer duration:

  1. extreme rainfall and storm-surge events that can lead to failures of stormwater infrastructure and localized coastal flooding
  2. sea-level rise that can threaten coastal resources with flooding, inundation, and protracted loss of habitat and infrastructure

The livelihoods of many residents of Maine’s coastal region are closely linked with coastal resource use and extraction. The region also has a strong history of local control and highly devoted governance frameworks, placing small-town municipal officials in decision-making roles related to climate-change adaptation. This requires policymakers and experts to codevelop decision-support tools and guidance programs.

Several patterns emerged from the survey conducted in this study:

  • coastal flooding and high rain events have had a negative effect on coastal communities over the past five years
  • coastal communities are increasingly taking steps to address climate change impacts including updating roads and culverts, creating comprehensive plans, and engaging in hazard mitigation planning
  • an urgency to address climate change and concerns that climate change will negatively impact coastal communities
  • 89 percent of respondents believed climate change was real and cause by humans

Chart showing that funding is the primary obstacle to climate change planning

Now more than ever before local policymakers are drawing on a variety of resources to address climate change in their communities. These include GIS analysis, interactive maps, technical assistance from experts, as well as professional and personal networks. These individuals also cited national reports and academic journals as far less useful in addressing localized issues for their communities.

Despite beginning to address the physical vulnerabilities presented by climate change, only 5 percent of respondents stated that they had conducted a social vulnerability assessment in their communities. They identified additional training and resources as necessary for conducting a social vulnerability assessment.

The major ongoing challenge for addressing climate change in rural coastal communities continues to be the lack of funding available for climate-change-adaptation projects.

chart that shows funding as the most important thing for combating local climate change


Given the broadening scope of climate adaptation needs among Maine’s coastal communities, this study recommends the following measures (among others) for improving the system of supports required to ensure they succeed in improving resilience:

  • develop more comprehensive, scalable, and localized date and map resources
  • ensure that regional planning commissions and councils of governments have the expertise, funding, and resources they need to help communities plan and implement complex adaptation projects
  • support initiatives such as provision of technical service or funding mechanisms to identify and address social vulnerability impacts at the local, regional, and state level.

Dig Deeper:

Johnson, Eileen S. , Esperanza Stancioff, Tora Johnson, Sarena Sabine, Haley Maurice, and Claire Reboussin. “Preparing for a Changing Climate: The State of Adaptation Planning in Maine’s Coastal Communities.” Maine Policy Review 28.2: 10-22. (12-pages, 16 minute read).

From MPR’s Archive:

Jacobson, George L. , Ivan J. Fernandez, Paul A. Mayewski, and Catherine V. Schmitt. “Maine’s Climate Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.” Maine Policy Review 17.2 (2008) : 16-23.

Rubin, Jonathan. “Transportation and Climate Change.” Maine Policy Review 17.2 (2008) : 115-119.

Tisher, Sharon, and Peter Mills. “Climate Policy 2015: Reports from the Congressional Trenches.” Maine Policy Review 25.1 (2016) : 72-76.

Related Resources:

Birkel, Sean D., and Paul A. Mayewski, 2018. Coastal Maine Climate Futures. Orono, ME: Climate Change Institute, University of Maine.

Jain, Shaleen, Esperanza Stancloff, and Alexander Gray. 2012. “Coastal Climate Adaptation in Maine’s Coastal Communities: Governance Mapping for Culvert Management.” Maine Climate News.

Johnson, Tora. 2015. “Role of Dignity in Rural Natural Resource Governance.” PhD diss., University of Maine.