The case for strategic and managed retreat in the face of climate change

The best option for adaptation to a rapidly changing climate, at least for some, may be to flee – a process called “managed retreat.” In this Policy Forum, A.R. Siders and colleagues acknowledge that retreat is a “politically sensitive climate adaptation strategy,” but also make the case that “the question is no longer if retreat will occur but how, where, and why.” They suggest that the social, economic and environmental benefits of retreat can be maximized if the approach – which involves the abandonment of areas vulnerable to escalating climate-related hazards – is managed to achieve strategic goals. Despite current examples of successful retreat and a looming urgency to address such relocation for the future, the approach, which has very little guiding policy, is often regarded only as an option of last resort – one to be avoided whenever possible. According to Siders et al., this narrow conceptualization of retreat misses important opportunities to address equity, ensure productive use of vacant land and to support sustainable relocation communities. The authors propose a reconceptualization of retreat not as a last-ditch effort or failure to adapt, but rather as a suite of adaptation options that are both managed and strategic. To be effective and equitable as the scope and scale of retreat grow, retreat must be integrated into broader development goals, such as economic development, and managed using context-appropriate approaches based on specific community needs. Nevertheless, given the complexities of the issue, to ensure the success of the proposed goals, “future retreat will need to be engaged with a spirit of experimentation: a willingness to try new things paired with rigorous research and evaluation of process and outcomes for all participants,” write Siders et al.


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Science Press Package Team

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