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

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Video recordings of individual sessions are available on the Earth Institute’s Youtube channel

A subset of presentations can be found here

Organized by the Climate Adaptation Initiative at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, this conference addressed 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 brought together thought leaders on this topic to advance the science and policy dialogue.

Topics addressed:

  • Buyouts
  • Communication
  • Community resilience
  • Decision-making on retreat
  • Environmental justice
  • Exposure
  • Financial instruments
  • Government planning
  • Hazard, risk and vulnerability
  • Legal aspects
  • Migration as adaptation
  • Non-coastal retreat issues
  • Public engagement
  • Real estate


The conference opened with an evening panel on June 19, followed by two days of plenary and concurrent sessions. See details of the schedule here.

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 (co-chair), Center for International Earth Science Information Network
Radley Horton (co-chair), Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Hayley Martinez (lead organizer), The Earth Institute
Chris Mayer, Columbia Business School
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

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, American Meteorological Society
William Solecki, Hunter College-City University of New York