Coastal States’ Climate Adaptation Initiatives: Sea Level Rise and Municipal Engagement

Todd Schenk, Ona Ferguson
Created: 10/02/2013 -


Sea level rise (SLR) is expected to become an increasingly prominent challenge for all levels of government as the climate changes. Complicating matters is the multi-jurisdictional nature of coastal zone management in the United States. Many of the potential measures to reduce the impacts of SLR are in the hands of municipalities, including changing building codes and land-use regulations; maintaining critical infrastructure; and protecting communities from flooding and other risks. Despite their autonomy and responsibility, municipalities will typically rely on resources and guidance from higher levels of government, and will also be subject to the restrictions these higher levels impose. Given the increasing importance of addressing SLR across the US, this relationship between states and municipalities is worthy of consideration.

This paper explores how states and municipalities interact to address SLR, providing an overview of the state of practice, some reasons for different levels of action, and some of the needs of municipalities. We conclude with a set of recommendations for states as they attempt to support municipalities:

  • Provide funding and material resources;
  • Provide downscaled climate data and easy-to-use information;
  • Provide process support;
  • Coordinate and provide consistency at the state level;
  • Raise the profile of SLR adaptation;
  • Instigate and support coordination at the most appropriate level; and
  • Tailor responses to the context.


Published On


Sector Addressed
Land Use Planning
Transportation / Infrastructure
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy
Capacity Building
Design or reform institutions
Increase organizational capacity
Coordinate planning and management
Increase / Improve public awareness, education, and outreach efforts
Conduct / Gather additional research, data, and products
Create/enhance resources and tools
Infrastructure, Planning, and Development
Managed retreat of built infrastructure, relocation of people/communities
Make infrastructure resistant or resilient to climate change
Create or modify shoreline management measures
Governance and Policy
Create new or enhance existing policies or regulations
Develop / implement adaptation plans
Maintain adequate financial resources for adaptation
Target Climate Changes and Impacts
Sea level rise
Habitat/Biome Type