Climate Change Impacts: Relocation to Safer Ground

Around the world, sea-level rise could lead to widespread migration, as people along vulnerable coastlines escape rising water levels. But coastal flooding isn’t the only extreme event that can impact migration patterns. As evidenced just this year in the United States by Hurricanes Maria and Harvey, and the widespread and devastating wildfires in Northern California, there are many types of extreme weather events that require relocation to safer ground.

On December 5th, 2017, this panel looked at the issues of retreat and relocation as they relate to extreme weather events and climate change.

The idea of retreating, whether temporary or permanent, is unpopular, controversial and brings a host of challenges. Yet around the world, extreme weather has displaced people from their homes, causing disruption to communities and lives. This panel provided an interdisciplinary exploration of the issues and challenges associated with climate-induced migration. What does climate science tell us about who may need to migrate? What are the legal issues surrounding managed retreat? Is relocation a feasible climate adaptation strategy? How can we ensure that people relocate to safe and secure places? Is ‘orderly’ retreat at a large scale even possible? Panelists explored these questions and more.

Moderator: Radley Horton, Lamont Associate Research Professor, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, The Earth Institute


  • Lisa Dale, Lecturer, Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development
  • Michael Gerrard, Director, Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, Columbia Law School
  • Alex de Sherbinin, Associate Director for Science Applications, Center for International Earth Science Information Network, The Earth Institute