At What Point Managed Retreat? Resilience Building in the Coastal Zone


Organized by the Climate Adaptation Initiative at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, this conference will address a range of issues facing coastal communities in the United States and around the world as sea levels rise and coastal flooding becomes more frequent and intense. The science around retreat is still ill-defined, and policy discussions remain contentious. This conference will bring together thought leaders on this topic to advance the science and policy dialogue. The conference will be of interest to academics, planners, practitioners, and industry representatives from sectors such as real estate and insurance. While the primary focus is expected to be on coastal issues, we anticipate additional talks/sessions focused on additional hazards facing diverse regions, such as drought/fire, heat stress, and inland flooding.

The Abstract submission deadline has passed. Abstracts are currently being peer reviewed and submitters will be receive notification by April 15, 2019. 

Topics to be addressed include:

Which coastlines will be most affected by sea level rise and surge and what are the uncertainties?

  • The physical science basis for identifying locations that are most likely to be subject to future impacts

Hazard, Risk and Vulnerability
How will exposure intersect with the human systems, the built environment, and large populations?

  • Mapping hotspots of economic/social risk and vulnerability
  • Environmental justice and patterns of risk

Societal Responses
What are the costs and benefits of retreat vs. in situ adaptation, and what advances in governance, planning, and private sector investment are needed?

  • The governance of retreat and infrastructure planning in terms of planning, policy, law, and financing
  • Private sector interests and engagement, including real estate markets, lenders, and insurance markets
  • Population movements, both planned and spontaneous
  • Risk communication and behavior

Detailed description found here.


The conference will open with an evening panel on June 19, followed by two days of plenary and concurrent sessions. Please check back soon for a detailed conference schedule.

Register Now

Registration grants admission for all three days of the conference. Refreshments and lunch are included. Click here and scroll to the bottom to ‘Purchase Tickets.’

  • General admission: $150
  • Government employees: $105 (Please email Hayley for a discount code)
  • Students and Columbia University Affiliates : $75

Travel and Accommodations 

Conference Goals

  • Convene scientists, policy makers and other stakeholders to advance an interdisciplinary dialogue on a topic that has not been explored in-depth.
  • Weigh the costs and benefits of managed retreat from the coastline versus resilience building and/or reinforcement of coastal defenses for communities in a range of contexts ranging from urban to rural, with varying risk levels.
  • Identify best practices and likely policy options for managing coastal retreat in these different contexts, borrowing from best practices globally.

Out of this conference, the organizers plan to develop a policy-oriented article for a leading journal, op-eds for broader audiences, and a distillation of best practices in a white paper for local planners.

Organizing Committee 

Alex de Sherbinin, Center for International Earth Science Information Network
Chris Mayer, Columbia Business School
Radley Horton, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Lisa Dale, Undergraduate Program on Sustainable Development
Michael Gerrard, Sabin Center for Climate Change Law and Columbia Law School
Richard Seager, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Hayley Martinez, The Earth Institute

Advisory Committee 

Robin Bronen, Alaska Institute for Justice
Anamaria Bukvic, Virginia Tech
Stéphane Hallegatte, World Bank
Carri Hulet, Consensus Building Institute
Rachel Isacoff, Climate Adaptation Consultant
Jesse Keenan, Harvard University
Liz Koslov, University of California Los Angeles
Justin Kozak, Center for Planning Excellence
Katharine Mach, Stanford University
Camille Manning-Broome, Center for Planning Excellence
Richard Moss, Advisory Committee, National Climate Assessment
William Solecki, Hunter College-City University of New York