Managed retreat as a response to natural hazard risk


Managed retreat is a potentially important climate change adaptation option, providing an alternative to structural protection or accommodation measures to manage natural hazard risk. However, its application faces challenges given the projected scale of climate-induced displacement and the difficulties of resettlement. We evaluate the drivers, barriers and outcomes of 27 recent cases of managed retreat that have resettled approximately 1.3 million people. A conceptual model based on two key factors—who benefits from retreat and who initiates it—organizes the diverse set of cases into four quadrants. Different sociopolitical dimensions emerge as particularly influential in each quadrant. The model establishes a foundation for understanding and anticipating case-specific complexities. It can be used to unpack the landscape of managed retreat and evaluate its potential future applications.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Conceptual model of managed retreat.
Figure 2: Managed-retreat conceptual model with recent examples mapped into their respective quadrants.
Figure 3: Key characteristics of each quadrant in the managed-retreat conceptual model.
Figure 4: Images of managed retreat.


  1. 1

    Nicholls, R. J. et al. Sea-level rise and its possible impacts given a ‘beyond 4 °C world’ in the twenty-first century. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 369, 161–181 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Wesselink, A., Warner, J., Syed, A., Chan, F. & Duc, D. Trends in flood risk management in deltas around the world: are we going ‘soft’? Int. J. Water Gov. 4, 25–46 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Wenger, C. Better use and management of levees: reducing flood risk in a changing climate. Environ. Rev. 23, 240–255 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Wong, P. P. et al. in Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability (eds Field, C. B. et al.) 361–409 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Diaz, D. B. Estimating global damages from sea level rise with the Coastal Impact and Adaptation Model (CIAM). Climatic Change 137, 143–156 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Tsyban, A. et al. in Climate Change: The IPCC Impacts Assessment (eds Tegart, W. J. McG., Sheldon, G. W. & Griffiths, D. C.) (Australian Government Publishing Service, 1990);

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Neal, W. J., Bush, D. M. & Pilkey, O. H. Encyclopedia of Coastal Science (Springer, 2005).

    Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Esteves, L. S. Managed Realignment: A Viable Long-term Coastal Management Strategy? (Springer, 2014);

    Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Cooper, N. J. The use of managed retreat in coastal engineering. Proc. ICE Eng. Sustain. 156, 101–110 (2003).

    Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Relph, E. Place and Placelessness (Pion, 1976).

    Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Fullilove, M. T. Psychiatric implications of displacement: contributions from the psychology of place. Am. J. Psychiatry 153, 1516–1523 (1996).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Binder, S. B., Baker, C. K. & Barile, J. P. Rebuild or relocate? Resilience and postdisaster decision-making after Hurricane Sandy. Am. J. Community Psychol. 56, 180–196 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Roth, D. & Warner, J. Flood risk, uncertainty and changing river protection policy in the Netherlands: the case of ‘calamity polders’. Tijdschr. Voor Econ. Soc. Geogr. 98, 519–525 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Tobin, G. A. The levee love affair: a stormy relationship? J. Am. Water Resour. Assoc. 31, 359–367 (1995).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Niven, R. J. & Bardsley, D. K. Planned retreat as a management response to coastal risk: a case study from the Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia. Reg. Environ. Change 13, 193–209 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Melius, M. L. & Caldwell, M. R. California Coastal Armoring Report: Managing Coastal Armoring and Climate Change Adaptation in the 21st Century (Stanford Law School, 2015);

  17. 17

    Schut, M., Leeuwis, C. & van Paassen, A. Room for the River: room for research? The case of depoldering De Noordwaard, the Netherlands. Sci. Public Policy 37, 611–627 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Turner, R. K., Burgess, D., Hadley, D., Coombes, E. & Jackson, N. A cost–benefit appraisal of coastal managed realignment policy. Glob. Environ. Change 17, 397–407 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    George, A. L. & Bennett, A. Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences (MIT Press, 2005).

    Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Rose, A. et al. Benefit-cost analysis of FEMA hazard mitigation grants. Nat. Hazards Rev. 8, 97–111 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Loss Avoidance Study (US Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2013);

  22. 22

    Okada, T., Haynes, K., Bird, D., van den Honert, R. & King, D. Recovery and resettlement following the 2011 flash flooding in the Lockyer Valley. Int. J. Disaster Risk Reduct. 8, 20–31 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Sipe, N. & Vella, K. Relocating a flood-affected community: good planning or good politics? J. Am. Plan. Assoc. 80, 400–412 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    de Vries, D. H. & Fraser, J. C. Citizenship rights and voluntary decision making in post-disaster US floodplain buyout mitigation programs. Int. J. Mass Emerg. Disasters 30, 1–33 (2012).

    Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Rupp-Armstrong, S. & Nicholls, R. J. Coastal and estuarine retreat: a comparison of the application of managed realignment in England and Germany. J. Coast. Res. 236, 1418–1430 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Defra Coastal Pathfinder Evaluation: An Assessment of the Five Largest Pathfinder Projects (Defra, 2011);

  27. 27

    Barenstein, J. D. in Post-Disaster Reconstruction and Change (eds Barenstein, J. D. & Leemann, E.) 209–232 (CRC Press, 2012).

    Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Boano, C. Housing anxiety and multiple geographies in post-tsunami Sri Lanka. Disasters 33, 762–785 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    Bronen, R. & Chapin, F. S. Adaptive governance and institutional strategies for climate-induced community relocations in Alaska. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 9320–9325 (2013).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30

    McNamara, E. Cross-border migration with dignity in Kiribati. Forced Migr. Rev. 49, 62 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  31. 31

    Zanolli, L. Louisiana’s vanishing island: the climate ‘refugees’ resettling for $52M. Guardian (15 March 2016);

  32. 32

    Adger, W. N., Kelly, P. M. & Locke, C. Migration, remittances, livelihood trajectories and social resilience in coastal Vietnam. Ambio 31, 358–366 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33

    Ratha, D., Mohapatra, S. & Scheja, E. Policy Research Working Paper (World Bank, 2011);

  34. 34

    Adams, H. Why populations persist: mobility, place attachment and climate change. Popul. Environ. 37, 429–448 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35

    Burley, D., Jenkins, P., Laska, S. & Davis, T. Place attachment and environmental change in coastal Louisiana. Organ. Environ. 20, 347–366 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. 36

    Cernea, M. The risks and reconstruction model for resettling displaced populations. World Dev. 25, 1569–1587 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37

    Ingram, J. C., Franco, G., Rio, C. R.-del & Khazai, B. Post-disaster recovery dilemmas: challenges in balancing short-term and long-term needs for vulnerability reduction. Environ. Sci. Policy 9, 607–613 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38

    Learning From Megadisasters: Lessons From the Great East Japan Earthquake (World Bank, 2014);

  39. 39

    King, D. et al. Voluntary relocation as an adaptation strategy to extreme weather events. Int. J. Disaster Risk Reduct. 8, 83–90 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40

    Bukvic, A., Smith, A. & Zhang, A. Evaluating drivers of coastal relocation in Hurricane Sandy affected communities. Int. J. Disaster Risk Reduct. 13, 215–228 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41

    Gillis, J. & Barringer, F. As coasts rebuild and US pays, repeatedly, the critics ask why? The New York Times (18 November 2012).

  42. 42

    Ramsay, D., Webb, A., Abraham, S., Jackson, R. & Charley, B. Kosrae Shoreline Management Plan Repositioning for Resilience (National Institute of Water and Atmosperic Research Ltd, 2013).

  43. 43

    UK Climate Change Committee Progress Report 2013: Managing the Land in a Changing Climate (Adaptation Sub-Committee of the UK Climate Change Committee, 2013).

Download references


We thank J. Barnett, V. Burkett, T. Chapin, K. Dow, R. Lempert, N. Mimura, B. Preston, A. Reisinger and A. Webb for feedback on an earlier draft. M.H. is financially supported through the Sykes Family Fellowship in Stanford’s Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources. K.J.M. is supported by funding from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Author information




M.H., K.J.M. and C.B.F. conceived the research and developed the conceptual model. M.H. collected and analysed data. M.H. wrote the paper with discussions with and inputs from K.J.M. and C.B.F.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Miyuki Hino.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 412 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Hino, M., Field, C. & Mach, K. Managed retreat as a response to natural hazard risk. Nature Clim Change 7, 364–370 (2017).

Download citation

Further reading