How to Plan for an Uncertain Climate Future
Stephanie Sklar, CEO of the Sonoran Institute, and George McCarthy, CEO of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, call for a paradigm shift in the planning field to better prepare for the impacts of climate change, grounding their argument in the context of Colorado’s state water goals. By 2025, Colorado aims for water conservation to be integrated land-use planning in communities accounting for 75 percent of the state.
"Local planners are at the forefront in addressing Colorado's water future," Sklar and McCarthy write, because the state’s water plan "recognizes the impact that land use has on water resources."
But to fulfill that goal—and build sustainable communities nationwide—planning as usual may not cut it.
The impacts of climate change could unfold into "a range of unpredictable futures," from drought to global economic loss. To prepare, planners may need to embrace the seeming antithesis of planning: uncertainty. "'What if…' should be a planner's mantra going forward," the authors suggest.
To illustrate how that philosophical shift could change the practice:
Water and wastewater infrastructure investments typically extend over a 30-year lifespan but often reflect key assumptions made at a project's initial conception. Will those assumptions hold over three decades, particularly as they relate to infrastructure payment and usage, in a more uncertain future?
Moreover, though Colorado's water plan is centered on community planning, municipalities need to adopt more cross-jurisdictional collaboration—particularly within a shared watershed.
"Planning for our future must occur at the scale of the problems we are trying to solve," the writers urge.