Developing a Managed Retreat Toolkit

March 26, 2019

Given the growing threat of sea-level rise and the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, coastal communities are increasingly confronting difficult questions regarding how to address risks to existing and future coastal development and how to protect and preserve important coastal ecosystems. To address these challenges, state and local governments are beginning to develop and implement responses to future sea-level rise, including consideration of managed retreat — relocating development out of harm’s way.

For many communities, managed retreat will need to be part of the solution set. In some areas, managed retreat will be the only viable long-term option for addressing the future threats from flooding and land loss to coastal residents, communities, and ecosystems.

To implement proactive resilience measures, state and local governments need tools that help them evaluate risks and develop legally viable approaches, including planning, regulatory, spending, and market-based approaches. Additionally, policymakers need tools to help them evaluate different managed retreat approaches in comparison to other adaptation responses, including accommodation (building structures to better withstand future flood risk) and protection (building flood risk reduction structures to reduce flood risk). Finally, to ensure an equitable approach to retreat, policymakers will need to develop strategies for helping residents relocate to safer locations in ways that maintain important social connections and provide needed services, housing, and jobs.

The Georgetown Climate Center (GCC) is partnering with leading experts to develop a Managed Retreat Toolkit, which will synthesize best and emerging practices for facilitating retreat in vulnerable coastal areas, preserving and enhancing important coastal ecosystems, and preparing higher-ground “receiving communities” to take in residents relocating away from vulnerable areas. The Toolkit will also include case studies about retreat from around the country, including examples from both coastal and riverine communities. Like GCC's Sea-Level Rise Toolkit, the Managed Retreat Toolkit will also include decision-making frameworks to help policymakers evaluate the legal, policy, and administrative considerations they need to weigh to choose among different options. The Toolkit will be designed as an online resource powered by GCC's Adaptation Clearinghouse, similar to the Green Infrastructure Toolkit. This will enable ongoing updates to the Toolkit to ensure that users have the most recent best practice examples of coastal adaptation.

To develop the Managed Retreat Toolkit, GCC is actively seeking input from state, local, and federal policymakers as well as other experts. GCC is partnering with the Coastal States Organization (CSO) to solicit input from state coastal managers. GCC also convened a series of workshops to facilitate discussions about managed retreat with a range of policymakers and other experts, including during a two-day workshop hosted by GCC in Washington, D.C. in March 2019. GCC also hosted workshops at the Restore America’s Estuaries conference in Long Beach, California in December 2018 (in partnership with CSO) and at a Climate Adaptation Forum hosted by the Environmental Business Council of New England and the University of Massachusetts Boston Sustainable Solutions Lab in Boston, Massachusetts in March 2019.

GCC plans to release this new Managed Retreat Toolkit in early 2020. For more information about this work or to inform the development of this tool, please contact Katie Spidalieri (; (202) 662-4046).

The Georgetown Climate Center would like to thank the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Kresge Foundation for making this work possible, and the other funders who support the Center's work.