Managed Coastal Retreat: A Legal Handbook on Shifting Development Away from Vulnerable Areas

158 Pages Posted: 6 Nov 2013 Last revised: 2 May 2014

See all articles by Anne Siders

Anne Siders

Stanford University; Columbia University - Sabin Center for Climate Change Law

Date Written: October 1, 2013


Climate change will change the way we live. No longer will the environment be a static condition, a certainty upon which other variables depend. Rather, it will be a variable itself, and it will make us plan for the future like never before. Already we are beginning to see the effects of change along our coasts. Rising seas and more frequent hurricanes present a dynamic environment that threatens infrastructure long thought to be safe. Our cities are ill-prepared for the dangers of the next century. Fiscally, we are spending more and more to repair the damage. Long-term planning that accounts for climate change is needed to ensure that money spent today will reduce our future risk.

We have the opportunity to not only build resilience today but also prepare for the future, to build the infrastructure that will be the foundation for our cities in the next century. This will require innovation and new technologies. It will also require tough decisions. Some areas will be too vulnerable, despite our best efforts to hold back the sea. Infrastructure and homes will need to be moved away from the threat and the shore opened up to the public. The political obstacles to this strategy will be severe in many places, but consideration of them should begin now.

Numerous legal tools already exist to assist federal, state, and local governments in conducting managed retreat away from the most vulnerable coasts. Scattered publications, toolkits, and websites describe a broad range of legal, policy, and regulatory tools. These tools have, with little fanfare, been used by communities around the United States to implement managed retreat. This Handbook collects examples, case studies, and lessons learned from some of these early innovators in the hope that their lessons can inform future efforts to limit the exposure of our communities to coastal threats. The key legal issues raised by these examples are also discussed.

The Handbook is organized into five sections. Each describes a potential tool, provides examples and information, and then present the lessons learned for that tool. The tools described herein are not the only tools that can or should be used. In fact, significant innovation will likely be needed to address the novel challenges posed by climate change. The tools presented here are simply a selection of those that have been implemented and that can inform future actions.

Keywords: Climate Change, Adaptation, Buyout

Suggested Citation

Siders, Anne, Managed Coastal Retreat: A Legal Handbook on Shifting Development Away from Vulnerable Areas (October 1, 2013). Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 14-365, Available at SSRN: or

Anne Siders (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Columbia University - Sabin Center for Climate Change Law ( email )

Jerome Greene Hall
435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States

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