Coastal communities are on the front lines of a changing climate. Rising, warming seas are contributing to stronger storms, higher extreme sea levels, and associated coastal ﬂooding, along with increasing "sunny day" nuisance ﬂooding. These shifting hazards amplify risks for people, valuable assets, essential infrastructure, and important economic industries such as energy production and shipping.
They also pose risks for human security, for example through impacts on migration, culture, territorial integrity, and national security. To prepare for and respond to such risks, U.S. policymakers across all levels of government, national to local, need sound, actionable evidence in support of critical decisions.
Policy Recommendations for the International Community
Efforts to strengthen coastal resilience outside the United States must reﬂect the wide diversity of coastal environments around the world and the wide variety of political, social, and ﬁnancial capacities of coastal communities. Mitigating the impacts of rising sea levels, intensifying storms, changing rainfall patterns, and degrading ecosystems in countries with limited resources will require comprehensive and collaborative policymaking processes that proactively include a broad, diverse range of stakeholders.
Despite signiﬁcant achievements in climate adaptation and mitigation, we are still a long way from preventing climate change from disrupting social-ecologic systems along the world’s coastlines. How much these disruptions will threaten a local coastal community depends on its resilience: its ability to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from rapid shocks and slow-onset disasters. Some key challenges to building the resilience of vulnerable communities against climate change include the uneven and multidimensional distribution of environmental risks, exclusion from decision-making processes, fragmented incentives across siloed sectors, limited access to funding, and policies that impede mobility.
These international policy recommendations are intended to aid American and other global actors in their efforts to build the capacity for resilience in the coastal regions that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
The following international policy recommendations are intended to aid American and other global actors in their efforts to build the capacity for resilience in the coastal regions outside the United States that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including small-island developing states and low-lying coastal communities. These recommendations apply to local and national governments, donors, multilateral organizations, international ﬁnancial institutions, private-sector corporations, and civil society. They outline ways to deliberately tackle these issues through addressing multiple sources of vulnerability, encouraging community-driven initiatives, facilitating multi-actor coalitions, improving access to ﬁnancial capital, and facilitating mobility.
Work across sectors and integrate programs to mitigate multiple sources of vulnerability.
Environmental risks have multiple dimensions and are rarely single-source problems. The economic status of individual community members and their social roles in society, for instance, can inﬂuence the way climate change affects their livelihoods, health, and well-being. Overarching trends in population growth, development, and migration interact with environmental change more severely within concentrated coastal areas, which are inherently fragile and disproportionately vulnerable to natural disasters.
Climate initiatives should seek to mitigate these multifaceted environmental risks to protect lives and livelihoods and to avoid maladaptation. Conﬂict prevention and gender equality concerns, for example, should be integrated into climate adaptation strategies to more effectively reduce underlying sources of vulnerability, diversify livelihoods, reduce insecurity, and empower coastal communities to prepare, respond, and recover.
Empowering coastal community members to develop their own climate resilience initiatives can produce co-beneﬁts for both people and ecosystems.
Climate adaptation funders can require programs to integrate crosscutting concerns, such as gender, migration, and conﬂict, using toolkits like the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Climate Change and Conﬂict annex. At the same time, funders can use climate risk screening and management tools to review the risks and impacts of non-climate development assistance.
Let coastal communities take the lead and fund community-driven initiatives.
Empowering coastal community members to develop their own climate resilience initiatives can produce co-beneﬁts for both people and ecosystems. Community-centered initiatives integrate local knowledge into resilience-building projects and result in solutions that are better suited to the local context. Climate action at the community level can also foster cross-sector collaboration, community cohesion, innovative planning, and economic entrepreneurship. Donors, governments, businesses, and ﬁnancial institutions should prioritize funding and support for community-level climate programs to reduce localized disaster risks and increase the diversity of local stakeholders in environmental governance.
Coalitions are increasingly inﬂuential in addressing climate change. Representatives from vulnerable coastal communities should participate in these coalitions to share knowledge and resources.
Donors and funders (including the private sector and ﬁnancial institutions) can use mechanisms like participatory community risk-mapping, stakeholder consultation processes, and joint collaborations to engage local communities. They can require that coastal climate resilience funding support community level programs, rather than just national or global organizations.
Build multi-actor coalitions within communities and across borders.
Coalitions are increasingly inﬂuential in addressing climate change. Collaboration among a wide range of actors—including businesses, insurance companies, researchers, subnational groups, development organizations, intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), and advocacy networks—has generated a strong political push for innovations and advances in climate adaptation and mitigation. Representatives from vulnerable coastal communities should participate in these coalitions to share knowledge and resources.
Partnering with the private sector can foster entrepreneurship, fund innovative infrastructure, and support more resilient community development projects. American and international actors in both the public and private spheres can facilitate coalition-building that not only gives vulnerable coastal communities a seat at the table but also stimulates creative, multi-stakeholder, cross-border approaches to climate resilience. Initiatives can also promote cross-border understanding of similar challenges so that lessons learned in other countries can be adapted to local contexts.
Financial support from sustainable economic development of local industries, such as tourism, can help preemptively develop more resilient communities.
Coastal coalitions like the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Partnership Framework, international partnerships like Sister Cities International, and forums like the Global Multi-stakeholder SIDS Partnership Dialogue can help to engage coastal stakeholders and support innovative cross-border exchange.
Increase funding and build capacity to access ﬁnancing and risk-management tools.
All stages of dealing with environmental disasters—prevention, preparation, response, and recovery—require access to abundant and ﬂexible ﬁnancial capital and financial risk- management tools. Limited access to ﬁnancial resources and ﬁnancial tools like insurance can severely compromise the capacity of vulnerable coastal communities to prepare for and recover from intensifying climate shocks. Many vulnerable coastal communities not only lack ﬁnancial resources, they also lack the capacity to access and absorb the ﬁnancing that is available.
Managing evolving climate risks through innovative insurance mechanisms, including micro-insurance schemes and risk pools, can lower the cost of premiums and lessen the ﬁnancial burden on communities in the post-disaster recovery phase. Donors should require that ﬁnancing programs include capacity-building assistance to ensure that those who need the money most are able to both apply for and absorb it.
Financial support from sustainable economic development of local industries, such as tourism, can help preemptively develop more resilient communities. By working with vulnerable communities to better predict loss and damage from climate change, public and private funding initiatives can align ﬁnancial resources to mitigate losses.
Public and private funding initiatives should increase their focus on adaptation as well as improved prediction of "loss and damage" from climate change.
Donors can support vulnerable coastal countries by providing guidance and capacity-building support for the National Adaptation Planning processes and by increasing access to ﬁnancing mechanisms such as the Green Climate Fund.
Tourism organizations and businesses can work with regional entities, such as the Coping with Climate Change in the Paciﬁc Islands Region (CCCPIR) program or Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) in the Caribbean, to increase the sustainability of their business activities.
Public and private funding initiatives should increase their focus on adaptation as well as improved prediction of "loss and damage" from climate change. The Warsaw International Mechanism could help determine approaches for loss and damage payments and whether a separate fund is called for.
Plan proactively for displacement and facilitate mobility.
Extreme weather-related events temporarily displace coastal communities. Some communities facing existential threats may seek to permanently relocate. Displacement and migration can be coping mechanisms, whether communities are forced to move or choose to do so as a positive adaptation to changing conditions. The policy and practical challenges of climate-induced relocation are enormous, including identifying the land to which people can relocate, providing continued access to subsistence foods, and providing funding.
Despite these challenges, community-based relocation strategies can respond to the climate- induced biophysical changes threatening people’s lives. Deliberate planning and policies that facilitate mobility are crucial for handling the socioeconomic and demographic shifts that accompany displacement and migration ﬂows. Building the capacity to move among potentially "trapped" populations and fostering community engagement in shaping relocation strategies can ease the transition for both migrants and recipient countries.
Governments, donors, and private-sector actors should invest in enhancing social cohesion across diverse populations, while deliberately and thoughtfully working with coastal communities to develop relocation policies and programs.
Governments, donors, and private-sector actors should invest in enhancing social cohesion across diverse populations, while deliberately and thoughtfully working with coastal communities to develop relocation policies and programs to ensure that human and resource rights are protected. And all actors should work toward solutions that can prevent forced displacement and migration.
Federal and international agencies can analyze the existing international and national policy and legal options to help guide tribal, local, regional, and national governments in relocating vulnerable communities and resolving questions of legitimacy and sovereignty when territory is lost due to climate change. Governments leading relocation must design and implement these plans in direct coordination with the affected communities.
Alice C. Hill is a Pacific Council member, a retired judge, and a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.
Roger-Mark De Souza is the former director of population, environmental security, and resilience at the Wilson Center.
Christopher B. Field is the director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
Katharine J. Mach is a senior research scientist at Stanford University.
Meaghan E. Parker is a senior writer and editor at the Wilson Center.
This article is an excerpt from a report that was originally published by Hoover Institution Press and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Pacific Council.