Climate-induced community relocations: using integrated social-ecological assessments to foster adaptation and resilience

Extreme weather events coupled with sea level rise and erosion will cause coastal and riverine areas where people live and maintain livelihoods to disappear permanently. Adaptation to these environmental changes, including the permanent relocation of millions of people, requires new governance tools. In the USA, local governments, often with state-level and national-level support, will be primarily responsible for protecting residents from climate-change impacts and implementing policies needed to protect their welfare. Government agencies have a variety of tools to facilitate protection in place and managed coastal retreat but have very limited tools to facilitate community relocation. In addition, no institutional mechanism currently exists to determine whether and when preventive relocation needs to occur to protect people from climate change impacts. Based on research involving four Alaska Native communities threatened by climate-induced environmental impacts, I propose the design and implementation of an adaptive governance framework to respond to the need to relocate populations. In this context, adaptive governance means the ability of institutions to dynamically respond to climate change impacts. A component of this adaptive governance framework is a social-ecological monitoring and assessment tool that can facilitate collaborative knowledge production by community residents and governance institutions to guide sustainable adaptation strategies and determine whether and when relocation needs to occur. The framework, including the monitoring and assessment tool, has not been systematically tested. However, the potential use of this tool is discussed by drawing on empirical examples of Alaskan communities faced with accelerating rates of erosion.

Relocation Report: Newtok to Mertarvik

This report presents work to date towards the development of a Strategic Management Plan (SMP) for the relocation of the village of Newtok to a new site at Mertarvik. Newtok is a growing 350-person coastal village fronting on the Ninglick River in western Alaska. The Ninglick River is rapidly eroding and consuming community land and facilities as it advances. The most recent prediction from 2007 is that the river could reach the school by 2017 and several houses in between even sooner.

In general, this project’s scope of work spans two phases. Phase 1, the focus of the preparation of background planning information. Phase 2 focuses on the development of the guiding principles and overall framework for relocation and the production of a SMP, which will be issued later this year. However, this Phase 1 report previews the beginnings of the SMP, hence the title Relocation Report.

Gulf South Rising 2015 - Final Report

Gulf South Rising was a regional movement of coordinated actions and events to highlight the impact of the global climate crisis on the Gulf South region. Through collaborative events and actions around strategic dates in 2015, Gulf South Rising demanded a just transition away from extractive industries, discriminatory policies, and unjust practices that hinder equitable recovery from disaster and impede the development of sustainable communities.

This year-long initiative

  1. built regional movement infrastructure;
  2. connected and convened frontline communities around collective healing and ecological equity;
  3. advanced regional efforts of indigenous tribal and land sovereignty and
  4. shifted the regional narrative from resilience to resistance.

The Gulf South Rising (GSR) Strategy Document was created through a five-year community process anchored by the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy using People’s Movement Assemblies (PMAs) as the method for community-based issue mapping and agenda setting. The PMA process allowed frontline community members of the Gulf South to collectively identify their own problems and vision their own solutions. Notes and decisions from five years of these PMAs across the region were synthesized into the Gulf South Rising strategy document. The Gulf South Rising Strategy Document principles for moving together, defined broad goals and specific objectives for the initiative, and structured collective regional actions around the 2015 calendar year.

The year 2015 was a movement year for the Gulf South and the Nation. Important “Movement Dates” included 50 years since the Selma March, 10 years since Hurricane Katrina, 5 years since the BP Deepwater Horizon Explosion, 40 years since the end of the Vietnam War, 50 years since the Voting Rights Act, and many more. Through shared work around these “Movement Dates” the Gulf South Rising initiative aimed to amplify the good work continuously being done in the Gulf South and connect authentic community across the region.

While crafted around commemorations. The Gulf South Rising initiative was strategically more than the sum of its parts. A regional collective of residents developed and supported leadership on the ground through the shared work of many of these commemorations. The GSR initiative created a culture of engagement and decision-making rooted in true democracy, trained local advocates on the intersection of climate change and social justice, and ensured that stories were told authentically by the people of the Gulf South. Gulf South Rising collectivized the 2015 movement energy in the region to support self-determination at the grassroots level for Gulf South communities. Participants in this 12-month initiative have determined that the Gulf South is Rising.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Climate Change Adaptation Plan (2014)

We live in a world in which the climate is changing at a rate faster than that which society has experienced in modern history. Because many of the environmental outcomes that EPA is working to attain (e.g., clean air, safe drinking water) are sensitive to changes in weather and climate, these changes are posing new challenges to EPA’s ability to fulfill its mission of protecting human health and the environment.

To address these challenges, EPA has developed a Climate Change Adaptation Plan. The Adaptation Plan relies on peerreviewed scientific information and expert judgment to begin to identify potential vulnerabilities to EPA’s mission from climate change. The Adaptation Plan also presents priority actions the Agency will take to integrate climate adaptation planning into its programs, policies, rules, and operations to ensure they are effective in a changing climate. EPA’s focus on climate adaptation is part of a larger federal effort to promote a healthy and prosperous nation that is resilient to a changing climate. EPA’s Climate Change Adaptation Plan provides a road map and commitment from the Agency to addressing the direction provided in the President’s Climate Action Plan, and Executive Order 13653, Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change.

Resilient Monroe Resource Atlas


United States
41° 54' 59.1624" N, 83° 23' 51.756" W

Resilient Monroe is a land-use planning and community design project in southeast Michigan sponsored by the City of Monroe, Frenchtown Charter Township and Monroe Charter Township. Together, these three local governments are planning for successful, resilient community adaptation to the social, environmental and economic challenges presented by climate change.

Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan 2008

Bangladesh is one of the most climate vulnerable countries in the world and will become even more so as a result of climate change. Floods, tropical cyclones, storm surges and droughts are likely to become more frequent and severe in the coming years. These changes will threaten the significant achievements Bangladesh has made over the last 20 years in increasing incomes and reducing poverty, and will make it more difficult to achieve the MDGs.

Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment

The National Climate Assessment assesses the science of climate change and its impacts across the United States, now and throughout this century. It documents climate change related impacts and responses for various sectors and regions, with the goal of better informing public and private decision-making at all levels.

A team of more than 300 experts, guided by a 60-member National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee produced the full report – the largest and most diverse team to produce a U.S. climate assessment. Stakeholders involved in the development of the assessment included decision-makers from the public and private sectors, resource and environmental managers, researchers, representatives from businesses and non-governmental organizations, and the general public. More than 70 workshops and listening sessions were held, and thousands of public and expert comments on the draft report provided additional input to the process.

The assessment draws from a large body of scientific peer-reviewed research, technical input reports, and other publicly available sources; all sources meet the standards of the Information Quality Act. The report was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including a panel of the National Academy of Sciences, the 13 Federal agencies of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, and the Federal Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Sustainability.

Power Failure: How Climate Change Puts Our Electricity at Risk — and What We Can Do

Today, extreme weather events such as coastal floods, wildfires, intense precipitation (snow and rain), heat waves, and droughts are becoming more frequent and severe in some regions. Sea level rise is already worsening coastal floods, and other extreme weather events are likely to become more severe as the planet continues to warm. Building power plants and electricity infrastructure in areas prone to climate-related threats adds to those growing risks.

To ensure a reliable and affordable power supply for decades to come, the electricity sector needs to become more resilient in the face of the changes we are already experiencing, and also adapt to growing risks. Our energy choices are an important part of the solution: energy efficiency and renewable energy can diversify our electricity system and make it more resilient. But there is more to the picture. By investing in those options, we can also dramatically cut carbon emissions, helping to curb further climate change. That is, smart energy choices will create an electricity system that is more resilient in the face of changes we are confronting today while reducing the long-term damage and costs linked to global warming.

PROVIA Guidance on Assessing Vulnerability, Impacts and Adaptation to Climate Change

PROVIA aims to meet a growing demand for knowledge on climate change vulnerability, impacts and adaptation by providing clear technical guidance that combines robust science with explicit consideration of user needs at the local, national and international levels, in both developed and developing countries. This document updates and improves existing guidance, discussing key issues at each stage of the adaptation cycle and covering the wide array of approaches, methods and tools available to address them. The resulting guidance should be useful to researchers, adaptation practitioners, planners and policy-makers alike.

Recommendations to Improve the Strength and Resilience of the Empire State’s Infrastructure

On November 15, 2012, Governor Andrew Cuomo convened the NYS 2100 Commission in response to the recent, and unprecedented, severe weather events experienced by New York State and the surrounding region: most recently, Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene, and Tropical Storm Lee. The Governor asked the Commission to examine and evaluate key vulnerabilities in the State’s critical infrastructure systems, and to recommend actions that should be taken to strengthen and improve the resilience of those systems. If done right, we have a tremendous opportunity not only to mitigate future damage and subsequent economic losses, but to invigorate New York’s economy with a robust green technology sector and to enhance quality-of-life for all New Yorkers.

The Commission reviewed the vulnerabilities faced by the State’s infrastructure systems, and developed specific recommendations that can be implemented to increase New York’s resilience in five main areas: transportation, energy, land use, insurance, and infrastructure finance. These recommendations are aimed to:

  • Identify immediate actions that should be taken to mitigate or strengthen existing infrastructure systems – some of which suffered damage in the recent storms – to improve normal functioning and to withstand extreme weather more effectively in the future;
  • Identify infrastructure projects that would, if realized over a longer term, help to bring not only greater climate resilience but also other significant economic and quality of life benefits to New York State’s communities;
  • Assess long-term options for the use of “hard” barriers and natural systems to protect coastal communities;
  • Create opportunities to integrate resilience planning, protection and development approaches into New York’s economic development decisions and strategies; and
  • Shape reforms in the area of investment, insurance and risk management related to natural disasters and other emergencies.