Driving Change: In some places the best response to climate change is managed retreat

November 2, 2020

[N]ew private-public initiatives, funds, and partnerships to lift and move entire communities inland have taken root; experts involved in these so-called ‘strategic relocation’ and ‘transformational redevelopment’ initiatives did the math, and net-net, like the communities moving on that they served, saw more stability and longevity in the large-scale shifting of infrastructure and lives. So went Harris County, Texas and Minot, North Dakota – two towns which have completed buyouts for people they wanted to move elsewhere. These were among 17 towns to explore or implement relocations profiled in a recent series of case studies published by the Georgetown Climate Center, a Washington, DC-based think tank. The interest is global: its online Toolkit launch on July 15th drew interest from Spain, Chile, Italy, New Zealand, and Canada.

“Plan now or be caught in a desperate situation later,” cautions Katie Spidalieri, lead author of the toolkit at GCC, during an interview with Driving Change. “That’s the COVID connection.” One example are plans by the State of Louisiana and the Native American Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Tribe to move to higher ground based with help from a federal disaster recovery grant.

Certainly, such buyouts are disruptive and require massive joint efforts to plan for housing, health, education, and water and sanitation infrastructure while at the same time addressing social-equity concerns and safeguarding a community’s social and cultural fabric. To date they have been rare. But as the climate continues to heat up, and the threat to coastal areas grows, such initiatives are increasing in scope and scale.


[L]ocal communities in roughly one-third of US states, including Alaska, Texas, and New Hampshire, are exploring similar initiatives – though “fewer states are probably considering managed retreat as a potential climate adaptation strategy than should be, given forecasted climate impacts,” notes Spidalieri, singling out Louisiana and California as states that are “publicly and actively having these conversations.”

Read the full article by Carolyn Whelan in Driving Change