Managed Retreat Toolkit

Annie Bennett

Posted on: 8/09/2022 - Updated on: 9/14/2022

Posted by



Managed retreat, or the voluntary movement and transition of people and ecosystems away from vulnerable coastal areas, is increasingly becoming part of the conversation as coastal states and communities face difficult questions on how best to protect people, development, infrastructure, and coastal ecosystems from sea-level rise, flooding, and land loss. The aim of managed retreat is to proactively move people, structures, and infrastructure out of harm’s way before disasters or other threats occur to avoid damage, maximize benefits, and minimize costs for communities and ecosystems.

Georgetown Climate Center’s new Managed Retreat Toolkit combines legal and policy tools, best and emerging practices, and case studies to support peer learning and decision-making around managed retreat and climate adaptation. It is the first comprehensive online resource on managed retreat and combines legal and policy tools, best and emerging practices, and case studies to support peer-learning and decision-making around managed retreat and climate adaptation.

Collectively, this toolkit is designed to help policymakers: 

  • Identify and assess a range of legal and policy tools available to facilitate managed retreat in vulnerable coastal areas experiencing sea-level rise, flooding, and land loss;
  • Implement best and emerging practices by highlighting the most innovative managed retreat practices that are being deployed at the state and local levels around the country; and
  • Overcome legal and policy barriers to implementation by providing decision-making frameworks for navigating these barriers and evaluating tradeoffs facing people, communities, and the environment.

The toolkit contains eight sections that present different legal and policy tools state and local coastal governments can evaluate to potentially implement broader managed retreat strategies. These sections fall into two categories:

  1. “Tools” sections that identify the legal approaches that jurisdictions can consider adapting to meet local context and needs around managed retreat.
  2. “Crosscutting” sections on legal and policy considerations.


The primary audiences for the toolkit are state, territorial, and local policymakers in U.S. coastal jurisdictions. Despite this emphasis on the coastal sector, some of the management practices and case studies are drawn from riverine or non-coastal states and communities because of the transferable lessons they can provide others.

Many of these tools can also be applied in inland communities at increasing risk of other types of flooding, such as from heavy precipitation events.


Katie Spidalieri
Katie Spidalieri

Managing Organizations

The nonpartisan Georgetown Climate Center seeks to advance effective climate, energy, and transportation policies in the United States—policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help communities adapt to climate change.

The Center performs a vital role in the development of policy by: