EIA Guidelines for Assessing the Impact of Climate Change on a Project

The following guidelines provide instruction for government agencies and project proponents on how to evaluate climate risk in the context of environmental impact assessment (EIA). These guidelines are intended to facilitate an assessment of: (i) how climate change may impact a project and its surrounding environment, (ii) the implications that this may have for the performance and environmental consequences of the project, and (iii) the selection of appropriate adaptation and resilience measures to address climate-related risks.  For guidelines on how to assess greenhouse gas emissions and the contribution of a project to climate change, click here.

Federal Guidelines

Council on Environmental Quality

Guidance on Consideration of Climate Change in NEPA Reviews, Council on Environmental Quality, August 1, 2016

This guidance describes how federal agencies should account for the effects of a proposal on climate change (using GHG emissions as a proxy for those effects) as well as the effects of climate change on the proposal.

Department of Defense

Water Resource Policies and Authorities Incorporating Sea-Level Change Considerations in Civil Works Programs, Engineering Circular No. 1165-2-211 (2009)

Provides guidance for incorporating the direct and indirect physical effects of projected future sea-level change in managing, planning, engineering, designing, constructing, operating, and maintaining USACE projects and systems of projects.

Department of Transportation

Highways in the Coastal Environment: Assessing Extreme Events, Hydraulic Engineering Circular 25, Vol. 2 (2014)

Provides technical guidance and methods for assessing the vulnerability of coastal transportation facilities to extreme events and climate change, focusing on sea level rise, storm surge, and waves. Approaches are based upon using risk-based, data driven concepts manifested by three different levels of effort ranging from use of available data to original numerical modeling. The manual also contains a method for computing relative sea level rise based on local tidal gages and likely impacts of climate change.

Climate Change, Extreme Weather Events, and the Highway System: Practitioner’s Guide and Research Report, National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Report 750: Strategic Issues Facing Transportation, Volume 2 (2014)

Provides guidance on adaptation strategies to the likely impacts of climate change through 2050 in the planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of infrastructure assets in the United States (and through 2100 for sea-level rise).

Impacts of Climate Change and Variability on Transportation Systems and Infrastructure: The Gulf Coast Study, Phase 2, Task 3.1, Screening for Vulnerability, in Engineering Assessments of Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Measures, FWHA-HEP-15-004 (2014)

In order to overcome the infeasibility of doing detailed vulnerability assessments for all individual assets, this study developed a screening approach that helps identify which assets could be considered more likely to be vulnerable to future climate conditions. The hallmark of this approach is the use of “indicators,” which are characteristics that may indicate the degree to which an asset is exposed, sensitive, or able to adapt to a particular climate stressor. Using indicators, each asset receives a score based on exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity; these scores are then rolled up into an overall vulnerability score. Assets with high vulnerability scores should be the first assets to receive more detailed attention to determine their specific vulnerabilities and/or to begin adapting to their vulnerabilities. Meanwhile, assets with lower vulnerability scores may not need immediate action.

Impacts of Climate Change and Variability on Transportation Systems and Infrastructure, The Gulf Coast Study, Phase 2, Task 3.2, in Engineering Assessments of Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Measures, FWHA-HEP-15-004 (2014)

Discusses a series of engineering assessments on specific transportation facilities in Mobile that evaluated whether those facilities might be vulnerable to projected changes in climate, and what specific adaptation measures could be effective in mitigating those vulnerabilities. It includes a description of the climate impact assessment process used, as well as findings that may apply more generally to engineering design practices, operations and maintenance practices, and other lessons learned.

Climate Change & Extreme Weather Vulnerability Assessment Framework, Federal Highway Administration, FHWA-HEP-13-005 (2012)

The Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA’s) Climate Change and Extreme Weather Vulnerability Assessment Framework is a guide for transportation agencies interested in assessing their vulnerability to climate change and extreme weather events. It gives an overview of key steps in conducting vulnerability assessments and uses in-practice examples to demonstrate a variety of ways to gather and process information. The framework is comprised of three key steps: defining study objectives and scope; assessing vulnerability; and incorporating results into decision making.

A Framework for Considering Climate Change in Transportation and Land Use Scenario Planning: Lessons Learned from an Interagency Pilot Project on Cape Cod: Final ReportFHWA-HEP-12-028 (2012)

The Interagency Transportation, Land Use, and Climate Change Pilot Project utilized a scenario planning process to develop a multi-agency transportation- and land use-focused development strategy for Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with the intention of achieving a reduction in future greenhouse gas emissions and considering the potential impacts of sea-level rise on the region. The outcomes of this scenario planning process will inform and support the region’s long-range transportation planning and other related efforts, as well as the planning efforts of local, state, and federal agencies.

Environmental Protection Agency

EIA Technical Review Guideline: Non-Metal and Metal Mining Volume 1, EPA/315R11002 (2011)

This is a general guidance document for EIA of mining facilities. It instructs engineers to consider the impacts of global climate change, including projections of increased extreme weather events, e.g., in the design of tailings management systems. But it does not contain extensive guidance on how to conduct such assessments.

General Services Administration

Sustainable Facilities Tool: Climate Adaptation, Sustainable Facilities Tool (2012)

As part of its Sustainable Facilities tool, GSA has introduced a “climate change risk workshop process” that combines best practices from the federal adaptation community to help users identify climate risks and develop strategies to secure vulnerable real property investments and supply chains. It prescribes a multi-step process for conducting vulnerability assessments and implementing adaptation measures. The tool is intended to help assess the vulnerability of specific assets and infrastructure to climate change; it does not provide instruction on how to assess environmental impacts of a project in light of climate change.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Adapting to Climate Change: A Planning Guide for State Coastal Managers, Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (2010)

The purpose of this guide is to help U.S. state and territorial (state) coastal managers develop and implement adaptation plans to reduce the impacts and consequences of climate change and climate variability (climate change) in their purview. It focuses primarily on providing support for broader planning processes, but does contain some relevant guidelines for assessing physical vulnerability to climate change and implementing adaptation measures.

US Agency for International Development

Adapting to Climate Variability and Change: A Guidance Manual for Development Planning (2007)

This guidance manual takes a broad perspective on adaptation planning, but it does outline an approach for project-level vulnerability risk assessment and the selection of adaptation options. See page 11 for a useful diagram of the approach.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

How to Incorporate SLR in Civil Works Programs, USACE Circular No. 2265-2-212 (2011)

Provides United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) guidance for incorporating the direct and indirect physical effects of projected future sea-level change across the project life cycle in managing, planning, engineering, designing, constructing, operating, and maintaining USACE projects and systems of projects.

U.S. Forest Service

Climate Change Considerations in Project Level NEPA Analysis (2009)

Primarily concerns land use actions and climate change mitigation, but includes relevant information for assessing climate change impacts on baseline environmental conditions and implications for the vulnerability of the affected environment. Recommends that EIS preparers consider measures to enhance adaptive capacity in alternatives analysis.

State and Local Guidelines


State of California Sea-Level Rise Guidance Document, CA Climate Action Team, Coastal and Ocean Working Group (2013)

Provides official sea level rise projections for the state of California and instructions on how to integrate these projections into planning processes and project design.

Climate Change Handbook for Regional Water Planning, California Department of Water Resources (2011)

Developed cooperatively by the CA Department of Water Resources (DWR), The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Resources Legacy Fund, and The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Climate Change Handbook for Regional Water Planning provides a framework for considering climate change in water management planning. Key decision considerations, resources, tools, and decision options are presented that will guide resource managers and planners as they develop means of adapting their programs to a changing climate.

Guidance on Incorporating Sea Level Rise: For use in the planning and development of project initiation documents, California Department of Transportation (2011)

Similar to sea-level rise guidance document noted above, but with specific focus on integrating sea level rise considerations into transportation projects.

Guidance for Incorporating Sea Level Rise into Capital Planning in San Francisco: Assessing Vulnerability, Risk, and Adaptation, San Francisco, Sea Level Rise Committee of SF Adapt for the San Francisco Capital Planning Committee (2014)

This guidance provides a framework for considering sea level rise within the capital planning processes for the City and County of San Francisco, CA. The guidance includes information on:

– official estimates of sea level rise
– sea level rise scenario selection
– sea level rise inundation mapping
– vulnerability and risk assessment
– adaptation planning
– permitting and regulatory considerations

It also includes examples of how the guidance would be applied with respect to different types of projects.


Draft MEPA Climate Change Adaptation and Resiliency Policy, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (2015)

Provides specific directions on how agencies should assess the impacts of climate change during EIA. Identifies three key types of impacts that should be evaluated:

– Sea level rise, coastal flooding and storm surge
– Impacts associated with changes in precipitation
– Impacts associated with changes in temperature

Requires preparation of a “climate impact assessment” to “evaluate how a project may be impacted by climate change related events and how the project itself may contribute to, or reduce, climate change impacts. Required elements include:

1. Detailed description of the site and proposed project
2. Evaluation of how climate change may impact the project site and proposed infrastructure
3. Evaluation of mitigation alternative and measures to identify commitments

The guidance also provides instructions on how to address uncertainty, risk analysis and adaptive capacity.

New York

Commissioner’s Policy – Climate Change and DEC Action, Department of Environmental Conservation (2010)

This policy document directs the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) staff to “identify potential adverse impacts from climate change” on all DEC programs, “incorporate climate change adaptation strategies into applicable DEC programs, actions and activities” and to “use the best available scientific information of environmental conditions resulting from the impacts of climate change.”

CEQR Technical Manual, New York City, Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination (2014)

Not detailed guidance, but it does instruct agencies to consider climate impacts in CEQR reviews:

“Although significant climate change impacts are unlikely to occur in the analysis year for most projects, depending on a project’s sensitivity, location, and useful life, it may be appropriate to provide a qualitative discussion of the potential effects of climate change on a proposed project in environmental review. Such a discussion should focus on early integration of climate change considerations into the project and may include proposals to increase climate resilience and adaptive management strategies to allow for uncertainties in environmental conditions resulting from climate change.”


Guidance for NEPA and SEPA Project-Level Climate Change Evaluations, Washington State Department of Transportation (2014)

Outlines an analytical process and provides template language for assessing the impacts of climate change on all WSDOT projects subject to NEPA and SEPA.

Preparing for Climate Change: A Guidebook for Local, Regional, and State Governments, King County, Climate Impacts Group, and ICLEI (2007)

Provides step-by-step guidance on how state and local decision-makers can prepare for the impacts of climate change within their jurisdiction. It does not specifically discuss integrating climate risk into EIA, but it does provide some guidance on vulnerability and risk assessments for physical infrastructure.

Foreign Jurisdictions

European Union

Guidance on Integrating Climate Change and Biodiversity into Strategic Environmental Assessment, European Commission (2013)

Outlines overarching principles as well as pragmatic considerations for addressing climate change (mitigation and adaptation) as well as biodiversity in EIA.  Provides a list of key questions for identifying climate change adaptation issues, and lists the considerations that should factor into the assessment of how climate change will impact the environmental baseline, the vulnerability of built infrastructure, and adaptation opportunities (p. 42-45).

Guidelines for Project Managers: Making Vulnerable Investments Climate Resilient, non-binding report submitted to European Commission, Climate Risk Management Ltd. (2012)

These Guidelines form part of the overall EU effort to mainstream climate change adaptation, following on from the White Paper on Adapting to Climate Change published by the Commission in 2009. They are designed to provide support to developers of physical assets and infrastructure. They provide information on the steps that can be undertaken to integrate climate resilience within a familiar project lifecycle appraisal practiced by project developers.  In particular, they explain when and how to apply seven modules to: consider how a project is vulnerable to climate variability and change, assess current and future climate risks to the success of the project, identify and appraise relevant and cost-effective adaptation options to build climate resilience, and integrate adaptation measures (resilience measures) into the project lifecycle.


Incorporating Climate Change Considerations in Environmental Assessment: General Guidance for Practitioners, Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (2003)

Includes information on:

– Methods that can be used to obtain and evaluate information concerning the impacts of climate change on a project
– Key sources of information that practitioners can use to address climate change considerations in project environmental assessments
– Methodology to encourage consistent consideration of climate change in the environmental assessment process across federal, provincial and territorial jurisdictions

The guidance indicates that, where the risks associated with climate change are associated with the private sector only, the project proponent can choose to absorb this risk. However, if the risks could potentially impact the project, they must be accounted for (and possibly mitigated) in the EIS.

Five step process:

1 – Preliminary scope for impacts considerations
2 – Identify impacts consideration: more detailed collection of regional climate change and project specific information
3 – Assess impacts and risks
4 – Develop impact management plans
5 – Monitoring, follow-up and adaptive management.

Climate Change Adaption Guidelines for Sea Dikes and Coastal Flood Hazard Land Use, British Columbia, Ministry of Environment (2011)

This document provides guidelines for the design of sea dikes to protect low lying lands that are exposed to coastal flood hazards arising from their exposure to the sea and to expected sea level rise due to climate change.

Guide to Considering Climate Change in Environmental Assessments in Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia Environment (2011)

Describes how climate change considerations should be incorporated into EIA processes and components of EIA documents, including: (1) project description, (2) existing environment, (3) issue scoping, (4) identification of valued environmental components, (5) impact assessment, (6) identification of significant impacts, (7) effects of the environment on the project, (8) mitigation and monitoring.  Recommends including an adaptation plan for projects that are identified as medium or high risk for climate change impacts.

Practitioner’s Guide: Incorporating Climate Change into the Environmental Impact Assessment Process, Nova Scotia, ClimAdapt (2003)

An earlier Nova Scotia guidance preceding the 2011 update, above.


Adaptation Handbook: Undertaking Risk Treatment for Coastal Climate Change Risks in the Republic of Kiribati, C. Elrick & R. Kay, prepared for the Kiribati Adaptation Project Phase II (KAP II), Government of Kiribati (2009)

Outlines a step-by-step procedure for reviewing climate-related risks (primarily coastal risks) and selecting risk mitigation measures.


The NCEA’s Recommendations on Climate Change in Environmental Assessment, Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment (NCEA) (2009)

Describes the NCEA’s approach to assessing climate change adaptation during the EIA process. Notes that the assessment depends on circumstantial factors, including the local climatological impacts in the long and short term; the nature of the area in which the adaptation must take place; an estimate of the risks; how the additional short-term costs relate to the costs avoided in the longer term (i.e. costs that increase as a result of management and maintenance, costs of later compulsory modifications, and costs incurred because there is now no room for other functions, such as water storage).

If adaptation is deemed to be a factor of significance, the NCEA requires information to be given on how the initiative can best respond to the impacts of climate change: how the risk of damage can be limited, and at the same time how the quality of life, the spatial quality and the safety can be maintained or enhanced. They also require information to be given about whether the project might hamper necessary adaptation measures in the future, for example by taking up space and thereby making it no longer possible to store water.

New Zealand

Climate Change Effects and Impacts Assessment: A Guidance Manual for Local Government in New Zealand, New Zealand Ministry for the Environment (2008)

This Guidance Manual is designed to help local governments identify and quantify opportunities and hazards that climate change poses for their functions, responsibilities and infrastructure. Specifically, the guidance manual:

• provides projections of future climate change around New Zealand
• compares these projections with present climate extremes and variations
• identifies potential effects on local government functions and services
• outlines methods for assessing the likely magnitude of such effects
• explains how this information can be applied to assess the risk associated with various climate change impacts
• provides guidance on incorporating climate risk assessment into local government regulatory, assessment and planning processes.

United Kingdom

Strategic Environmental Assessment and Climate Change: Guidance for Practitioners, UK Environment Agency (2011)

This guidance provides general recommendations on how climate change issues can be considered in strategic environmental assessments (SEA) in England and Wales. It presents information on the causes and impacts of climate change and how they can be described and evaluated in SEA. It also describes how adaptation and mitigation measures can be developed through SEA.

Adapting to Climate Change: A Checklist for Development. London, Greater London Authority, London, London Climate Change Partnership (2005)

The overall aims of the document are to assist developers and their design teams to future- proof developments at the design stage, to incorporate resilience to climate change impacts within existing communities, and to help planners scrutinizing planning applications. The resulting checklist provides a useful framework for reviewing climate change impacts on urban ventilation and cooling, urban drainage and flood risk, water resources, and outdoor spaces.

International and Nongovernmental Organizations

Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM)

Guide to the Integration of Climate Change Adaptation into the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Process (2004)

Six step process:

1 – Define project and alternatives
2 – Conduct preliminary vulnerability assessment
3 – Conduct initial screening for climate change impacts and risks
4 – Scoping: identify key issues and information needs
5 – Assessment and evaluation
6 – Develop an environmental management plan

Engineers Canada, Puiblic Infrastructure Engineering Vulnerability Committee (PIEVC)

PIEVC Engineering Protocol for Infrastructure Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation to a Changing Climate, Canadian Council of Professional Engineers, Revision 10 (2011)

Very detailed protocol for assessing the vulnerability of new and existing infrastructure to the impacts of climate change.  Provides information on:

– Data gathering and sufficiency (including a list of climate data resources, focused on Canada)
– Risk assessments
– Engineering analysis

Focused on technical rather than legal considerations.

European Spatial Planning (ESPACE)

Climate Change Impacts and Spatial Planning Decision Support Guidance (2008)

Concentrating on climate change adaptation, this guidance document presents a series of tools which can be used to assist planners in carrying out their own high level climate change risk assessment on development options.  The guidance contains several tools to help spatial planners consider potential climate change impacts when evaluating different planning options. These include:

– Constraint mapping
– Tipping points (or threshold analysis)
– A high level risk assessment / screening tool
– Decision pathways

Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment (IEMA)

Principles on Climate Change Adaptation & EIA (2010)

A framework for integrating climate change considerations into EIA through the application of 20 principles. These principles are prescriptive but not overly technical. For example:

Principle 11 (Significance) – Where the EIA identifies impacts likely to be generated as a consequence of predicted changes in the climate their significance should be evaluated based on a combination of:

• Scenarios: an impact’s likelihood under a range of climate scenarios;
• Vulnerability: a receptor’s vulnerability to existing climatic variations; and
• Resilience: a receptor’s ability to absorb such disturbance and continue to function.

Where the EIA identifies that the likely consequences of climate change pose significant risk to a project’s ability to effectively function in the future, the assessment should aim to ensure the costs of not adapting are properly considered in the design process.

International Association for Impact Assessment

Climate Change in Impact Assessment: International Best Practice Principles, P. Byer et al, Special Publication Series No. 8 (2012)

These best practice principles are intended to help practitioners integrate climate change considerations into both project-level and strategy-level impact assessments.  The protocols deal with both mitigation and adaptation. The protocols deal with screening and scoping for climate impacts, refining project baselines, conducting vulnerability assessments, identifying adaptation objectives and measures to  implement those objectives, using the best available science, discussing uncertainty, and follow-up assessments / adaptive management.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)

Incorporating Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation in Environmental Impact Assessments: Opportunities and Challenge (2010)

This report identifies key considerations for EIA of climate risks and adaptation options and outlines a rationale for assessing such risks in the EIA context. It does not, however, contain specific guidelines on how to conduct that assessment.

Strategic Environmental Assessment and Adaptation to Climate Change (2008)

This is one in a series of Advisory Notes that supplement the OECD/DAC Good Practice Guidance on Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) (OECD/DAC 2006). The Guidance provides a broad framework, steps and principles of SEA application across the full range of policies, plans and programmes. This Advisory note supplements that analysis with additional recommendations on addressing climate change adaptation through SEA. It is intended to (i) illustrate how SEA may provide a framework for integrating considerations of climate change risks and opportunities into strategic planning, and to (ii) guide planners, policy makers and sector specialists working in the preparation of PPPs and those already familiar with SEA in the inclusion of climate change considerations into PPPs.


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