Mark Gibbs reports on the challenges of adapting to sea level rise as a consequence of climate change. One of the primary problems Gibbs identifies is that many governments are employing a “plan and forget” approach, by which “local communities are given the impression that the risk is being managed, when in fact it is not.”
Then there are weaknesses in some of the plans cities are adopting. Gibbs especially calls out the preference of some cities for retreat (i.e., moving buildings and facilities to higher ground) instead of defense. According to Gibbs, retreat is too commonly recommended in climate adaptation plans, though retreat makes little economic or practical sense.
Better examples, according to Gibbs, include initiatives such as the Port Phillip Bay Coastal Adaptation Pathways Project and the Queensland Climate Adaptation Strategy (currently under development) and the work of New York. “New York is perhaps the best example of governments and individuals alike choosing protection rather than retreat,” writes Gibbs, who also notes that none of the winners of the Rebuild by Design competition propose retreat strategies.
Another of Gibbs’s key points is the inherent political risk in coastal adaptation policies. “One of the main risks is when communities end up divided between those wanting a response to the growing risks of coastal flooding, and those more concerned about how their own property values or insurance premiums might be hit in the short-term by such action. For some, the biggest threat is seen to be from sea level rise adaptation policies rather than sea level rise itself.”