Reaching Higher Ground: Avenues to Secure and Manage New Land for Communities Displaced by Climate Change
Millions of Americans are in danger of being displaced by sea level rise before the end of the century. In fact, migration from high-risk areas has already begun in isolated locations across the United States, where people are looking for homes less vulnerable to recurrent flooding, rising tides, melting permafrost, and other effects of global climate disruption. Noted examples that have caught the public’s eye and policymakers’ attention include the Isle de Jean Charles in the Louisiana Bayou and the Village of Newtok in Alaska, where daily life is becoming more difficult because of changing environmental conditions.
There are three types of tools to acquire and govern land to relocate a community: legal, policy, and corporate. Legal tools include litigation of unresolved claims to land, lawsuits based on theories of negligence or takings, legislation to effect an exchange for land to serve as a relocation site, and easements or covenants in deeds to individual land ownership. Policy tools include federal assistance programs, such as a federal disaster declaration, grant or loan program, or housing buy-out. Finally, corporate tools include community-based for-profit or nonprofit entities organizing to generate revenue for land acquisition and to distribute and manage communally held land and housing for the benefit of its members.
Climate relocation achieves a vital objective when a community is relocated away from the threat of climate impacts before it is struck by disaster. In the absence of a catastrophic event, successful climate relocation also works to prevent or mitigate other physical and nonphysical harms to community members. To achieve that, partners must recognize that the process of relocation does not end with the physical move. Rather, the needs of community members must be adequately supported in the long term, and partners must deliver services that are also informed by non-climate social and economic vulnerabilities and non-climate environmental stressors. In addition, successful climate relocation requires a participatory process and meaningful choices for residents.