Adaptation Tool Kit: Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Land Use

Jessica Grannis
Posted on: 3/07/2023 - Updated on: 3/07/2023

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Climate change is happening. Past greenhouse gas emissions have committed us to decades of rising temperatures and seas. Recent studies, factoring in ice-sheet melt, estimate that we may experience an average of up to 6 feet of sea-level rise across the globe over the next century. The potential physical and fiscal impacts of sea-level rise (SLR) are stark. We are already seeing increasing erosion of our beaches and the inundation of low-lying wetlands. Physically, SLR will intensify impacts from storm surge, flooding, and erosion. Fiscally, governments will need to spend large amounts of money on emergency response and to rebuild flooded infrastructure. Valuable government tax base and significant private investment will literally fall into the sea. And, if governments fail to plan for these impacts, legal fallout is a certainty.

Governments have powerful reasons to begin planning and adapting now. Emergent ad-hoc responses to climate impacts will put people, property, and scarce financial resources at risk. However, governments need not invent entirely new methods to address these impacts. State and local governments have an assortment of tools that they have used to address other land-use problems (such as flooding and sprawl) that they could refashion and use to adapt. This Tool Kit describes 18 different land-use tools that can be used to preemptively respond to the threats posed by SLR (see Table 1 on the next page). This Tool Kit focuses on land-use tools that could be used to adapt to impacts to the built environment (public and private coastal development and infrastructure).

In order to devise a comprehensive strategy, governments will need to determine which tools to employ given their unique socio-economic and political contexts. To this end, we also provide policymakers with a framework for decision making. We analyze each tool by (1) the type of power exercised to implement it (planning, regulatory, spending, or tax and market-based tools); (2) the policy objective that it facilitates (protection, accommodation, planned retreat, or preservation); and (3) the type of existing or potential land uses that the tool can be used to adapt (critical infrastructure, existing development, developable lands, and undevelopable lands). Finally, we provide a top-level analysis of the trade-offs between tools—the economic, environmental, and social costs and benefits, and the legal and administrative feasibility of implementing each tool.


Jessica Grannis (2011). Adaptation Tool Kit: Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Land Use How Governments Can Use Land-Use Practices to Adapt to Sea-Level Rise. Georgetown Climate Center.…;

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