How to Use Economics to Build Support for Climate Adaptation

Funded by GLISA internal (NOAA Climate Program Office Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments)



A growing number of local governments are taking steps toward climate adaptation, mostly through the development of climate adaptation plans. However, the rate and pace of adaptation action has significantly lagged behind planning, especially in mid-and small-sized municipalities where resources are often limited and local politics may further delay action. The prevalence of response rather than proactive action is further exacerbated by the disproportionate level of federal disaster funding available for disaster response rather than planning and mitigation.

Local governments face an increasingly urgent need to adapt to a changing climate in ways that reflect their unique environmental, social, and economic conditions, all on a balanced budget and with limited federal support. How to Use Economics to Build Support for Climate Adaptation helps cities build data-driven, economic arguments that can be presented to a diverse range of partners in arenas of competing priorities – and was written and co-produced with the specific input and needs of cities across a spectrum of conditions.

Case studies of cities from San Antonio, Texas to Warren, Minnesota illustrate how cities large and small have used economic analyses to support their climate adaptation programs and increase their resilience to a changing climate. In Urbana, Illinois, sustainability staff have worked to understand residents’ barriers to adopting a new program, besides just costs. For a solar program, they have found success emphasizing costs in terms of payback period, as well as describing social norms (e.g., your neighbors are participating); emotional appeals (e.g., it is the right thing to do for future generations); and convenience (e.g., vetting contractors and soliciting bids to reduce legwork for homeowners).

GLISA, with the help of Headwaters Economics, researched and reported strategies, methods, and case studies of cities that have used economic data and methods to advance climate adaptation programs. The report summarizes city planning and adaptation efforts that would benefit from economic arguments, compares the strengths and weaknesses of economic approaches, including their usefulness to municipal staff, elected officials, and other community leaders, and explains differences in data availability, cost, and scalability associated with alternative economic techniques. It also includes short case studies identifying key cities and social scientists that have experience successfully supporting planning and adaptation efforts with economic arguments — including the approaches and products cities found to be useful and persuasive for decision-makers. This is a first step to working directly with cities and partners on the costs of adaptation in our region.

Project Accomplishments

GLISA and Headwaters Economics partnered with the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) to co-develop a report titled How to Use Economics to Build Support for Climate Adaptation. Co-produced with communities, the report is aimed at helping municipalities understand how to best make the case for local climate action. Focusing on the effective use of economic data and clear methods of communication, the report addresses the many complex and competing priorities that cities face – offering innovative solutions that help prioritize climate action at the municipal level. The report was published in December 2019, disseminated to national networks (i.e., RISA, USDN), and presented on the monthly NOAA Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) network call on April 2, 2020.


Lawson, M. (2019). How to use economics to build support for climate adaptation. 

Research Findings

Economic arguments can help to engage new audiences and frame project needs in compelling, novel ways that recognize local governments’ competing priorities and limited budgets. They can help sustainability directors, local government staff engaged with sustainability and climate work, and other partners make concise, data-driven cases for community adaptation and resilience.

GLISA’s Contribution

GLISA worked with USDN to identify the need for and scope the report, and then worked with Headwaters Economics to co-develop the report, funding Headwaters to conduct interviews, draft, and design the report.

Project Partners

Headwaters Economics, Urban Sustainability Directors Network

GLISA Contact

Jenna Jorns, GLISA Co-Director,