DEEP: Legal Tools for Climate Adaptation

Legal Tools for Climate Adaptation
Legal and policy tools cover a wide spectrum of options for achieving climate preparedness goals, including the following:
  • Zoning and Overlay Laws
  • Floodplain Regulations
  • Building Codes
  • Design Criteria
  • Setbacks
  • Buffers
  • Conditional Development
  • Rebuilding Restrictions
  • Subdivisions
  • Rolling Easements
  • Shoreline Armoring Permits
For information on other types of strategies, such as planning or economic strategies, see CART’s Setting Preparedness Goals, Planning, and Implementation actions page.
Sources for General Legal Tools
The following section lists websites and reports that detail a suite of legal tools for achieving adaptation goals. Many of them contain information that will help you decide which legal tools are best for your community.
Specific Legal Information
  • Zoning & Overlay Zones allow a community to clearly defining areas appropriate for growth, as well as areas where growth should be discouraged or prohibited. These zones can address rebuilding restrictions and help to achieve cluster development. The Model Bylaw for Effectively Managing Coastal Floodplain Development available through the Cape Cod Commission can help a community craft a bylaw that’s appropriate to their circumstances.
  • Building Codes & Resilient Design can be used to alter both the siting and construction of a structure to maximize its capacity to withstand flooding. Although the current National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) sets minimum standards, communities can set higher standards or incentivizes higher standards to improve future resilience. For example, freeboard requirements could be increased to require that building elevations consider future sea level rise.
  • Rolling Easement StatutesClimate Ready Estuaries (CRE) released a technical primer detailing how to apply rolling easements in order to achieve long term resilience.
  • Sea Level Rise and Coastal Land are the focus of Georgetown’s cutting edge legal toolkit that offers a large menu of solutions to municipal officials.
Case Studies of Local Governments and Regions Using Legal Tools
  • Chatham, MA & Oak Bluffs, MA floodplain bylaws that limit new development and expansions in areas vulnerable to flooding.
  • The Chesapeake Bay Critical Area law uses overlay zones to protect and restore water quality and habitat, helping to protect the area under future sea level rise circumstances.
  • StormSmart Coasts has various case studies on New England towns and cities using legal tools to advance adaptation measures.
Content Last Updated November 2013