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Integrating Climate Adaptation: A Toolkit for Urban Planners and Adaptation Practitioners

Explore a toolkit for urban planners and adaptation specialists, providing guidance on integrating climate adaptation into urban planning.
Multiple Authors
Skyscrapers from the city of Vancouver in front of a blue sky with clouds reflected in the water
The city of Vancouver. Photo by Mike Benna on Unsplash


Today, over half the world’s population lives in cities and that number is expected to rise to more than two-thirds by 2050.

Cities are not only a key contributor to climate change – being responsible for 70% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions– they will also bear the brunt of the climate crisis’ effects and, to a large extent, are already doing so. The global temperature has now risen by 0.8 degrees Celsiusabove pre-industrial levels and, even if the goal of the Paris Agreementis reached and the temperature rise kept below 1.5° or 2°C, the consequences for cities will be extreme. An increase of 2°C by 2050 threatens to place 1.3 billion people at risk and destroy USD 158 trillion in assets – double the annual productive output of the world – due to climate-change-related natural disasters.

Aimed at both urban planning and climate adaptation specialists working for cities, this toolkit was developed with the goal of facilitating the inclusion of climate change adaptation principles into the practice of urban planning. It is meant as a guidance document for cities to set themselves up for success in the emerging field of climate-change adaptation through urban planning measures. It is understood that urban planners are not always adaptation specialists, and city staff focussing on adaptation may lack knowledge about urban planning, but given the certainty of climate-related hazards, both disciplines must adapt in order to come together. Urban planning projects must incorporate natural vulnerabilities – flooding, drought, etc. – as well as nature-based solutions to ensure practical, liveable, and just development.

It is hoped that the first two parts of this toolkit will provide planners with the resources to make this case, as well as furnishing adaptation practitioners with some ideas and resources for ways that they can engage their urban planning colleagues. The third part imagines what would happen if a city’s planners and sustainability department came together, in a physical or virtual space, and explores the spectrum of outcomes that this could achieve – from a simple, bridge-building ‘getting-to-know-each-other’ session, to several days spent mapping out collaborative projects for the next five years.

This weADAPT article is an abridged version of the original text, which can be downloaded from the right-hand column. Please access the original text for more detail, research purposes, full references, or to quote text.

How is climate change affecting our cities?

Cities are already feeling the impacts of climate-related hazards, such as extreme heat, flooding, drought, sea-level rise, and storms.

According to C40’s Climate Risk Assessment Framework Taxonomy report,these were the five risks most frequently faced by cities, the consequences of which have been leading to deadly and costly disasters.

Seventy per cent of C40 member cities report they are already experiencing these hazards as the effect of climate change. And as we experience greater effects of climate change, current scenarios are expected to worsen.

C40 published a report titled The Future We Don’t Want to demonstrate how serious the impacts of climate change would be in different cities. The report studied a future scenario where climate change was left unabated. By considering global projections and examining local impacts for more than 2,500 cities around the world, the report illustrates a severe scenario of climate impacts, as summarized by Table 1.

Source: C40 Cities (2018) The Future We Don’t Want, p. 6. Available from: <a href=”>

Refer to Chapter 1 in the full toolkit to explore strategies and case study examples on how cities can adapt to urban flooding, heat, drought, sea-level rise, storms, and wildfires.

How can urban planning policies contribute to climate change adaptation?

Urban planning, as a technical and political process, is wide in scope, as it regulates the built environment and the use of land, urban infrastructure, green, and public space.

For cities to weather the long-term effects of climate change and continue to thrive, local officials must strive to integrate adaptation principles into urban planning policies, effectively hard-wiring resilience into the city’s regulatory tools.

The opportunity is tremendous because cities typically have a very high level of control over their urban planning processes. Local policymakers can use the map of the city’s climate-change-related hazards (risk map) to shape urban planning policies that are risk-appropriate. This ensures that urban development is resilient from the onset, avoiding costly adaptation retrofits later on.

Urban planning tools take multiple forms and serve a number of (sometimes competing) objectives, such as: enabling the provision of housing, commercial spaces, or green areas; promoting public safety, economic development, or efficient transportation; and mitigating the city’s climate impact.

It is helpful to conceptualize the different potential interactions between planning and adaptation policies in order to understand how to integrate them. This section will highlight the synergies (positive, reinforcing interactions) between adaptation and urban planning at different scales. It does this by looking at the various urban-planning vehicles that represent opportunities through which climate objectives can be met.

Discover how comprehensive plans, district-scale plans, city zoning codes, incentive programmes, urban design guidelines, and public infrastructure plans can all be used to maximise climate adaptation opportunities in Chapter 2 of the toolkit.

How can you go about integrating climate adaptation into urban planning policies?

Adapting to climate change is a necessity for cities, and there are great efficiencies in and opportunities for embedding climate adaptation principles into urban planning policies.

However, in most cities, this does not typically happen, as adaptation professionals and urban planners seldom interact, and have different goals. This can be due to a siloed government structure, the difference in the professionals’ background, or the fact that climate adaptation is fairly new as an area of public policy.

Sometimes, there is a top-down effort to integrate adaptation and planning functions, whereby the city council or mayor mandates that any urban planning policy must incorporate climate adaptation principles. However, this process can be politically onerous and time consuming. Far better is when climate adaptation professionals and urban planners within the city government come together organically and take it upon themselves to bridge the gap between the two functions.

In this chapter, we imagine a scenario where city officials from the adaptation and planning sectors take the opportunity to convene, educate each other, and strategize on their collaborations. We have set out some ideas, tools, and resources for a workshop or training session where planners and adaptation specialists can learn about each other’s worlds and build on each other’s expertise. Where there is enough time and will, this process can move beyond the academic and actually deliver real urban planning policies that integrate climate adaptation principles in a meaningful and effective way.

Consult Chapter 3 of the toolkit to find tips on how to run an effective climate adaptation workshop; these cover strategy planning, staff participation, preparation, different workshop formats, and how to harness momentum after the workshop has taken place.


Integrating climate adaptation into urban planning is important for building resilient and sustainable cities. By fostering interdisciplinary collaboration and incorporating risk-appropriate strategies, cities can proactively plan for and mitigate the impacts of climate change. By leveraging the resources and strategies outlined in the toolkit, city officials can work together to create more liveable, just, and climate-resilient urban environments.

Suggested Citation:

C40 Cities (2020). Integrating Climate Adaptation: A toolkit for urban planners and adaptation practitioners. Available from:

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