Relocation of coastal communities due to severe storms and rising sea levels is already a common, often complicated event, but can be managed in a way that takes community concerns, interests, and benefits into account, according to a new post this week on the NDCi.Global blog.
“Coasts support important industries (such as ports and tourism) and their populations are growing faster than inland areas,” states coastal scientist Dr. Luciana Esteves of Bournemouth University in Poole, England. “But coastal areas are also particularly sensitive to impacts of climate change, which are likely to increase the extent, intensity, and frequency of coastal flooding and erosion.”
That’s not only because humanity has occupied places that are subject to natural flooding and erosion, but also because human settlements have changed the environment in ways that increase the risk—a predicament that public policy has been less than effective at managing.
“Traditional hard engineering approaches of coastal protection (such as groynes, revetments, and seawalls) are known to cause detrimental effects, which in the longer term can aggravate the problem they were supposed to solve,” Esteves writes. “Soft” engineering solutions like beach nourishment lose their effectiveness over time, as erosion continues. In both cases, “‘protection’ gives a false sense of safety and enables occupation of risk areas,” increasing the potential hazard to people and property.
The shift in practice brought on by climate change depends on location. In lower-risk areas, adaptation plans might mean raising building foundations in flood-prone areas, installing sustainable drainage systems, or upgrading building codes to address disaster risk.
Elsewhere, it may turn out that relocation is the only option, but “there are large uncertainties concerning the predictions of climate change impacts – and this makes planning a difficult task,” she writes. “In some places, effects of sea level rise are already evident, but it’s still difficult to be sure how fast and how much it will rise.”
Esteves traces some successful relocations that have already taken place, from the Twin Streams project in Auckland, New Zealand, to the town of Kiruna, Sweden, to five areas that have been selected for pilot projects in France. In Kiruna, an inland community at risk of ground collapse due to mining, more than 18,000 residents will be relocated over 20 years to a site three kilometres away.
“The layout of the new city centre has been designed to be more sustainable, energy efficient, and have better options for cultural activities and socializing,” she notes. “Local residents were engaged and helped identifying 21 heritage buildings they want relocated to the new area.”
All the examples point to the importance of engaging communities in any relocation process, and while planners can expect a lot of resistance, perceptions can be changed by “open and inclusive debate about the need for relocation and the consequences and benefits,” Esteves concludes. “Prevention is always less costly and more effective than remediation, particularly when involving people’s safety. The earlier we accept the need to change, the less damaged is the legacy we leave to the next generations.”