"Climate change is affecting people all over the world, and everyone is trying to figure out what to do about it," A.R. Siders, a disaster researcher at the University of Delaware, wrote in a June 2021 study. "One potential strategy, moving away from hazards, could be very effective, but it often gets overlooked."
Managed retreat means permanently moving people and buildings away from vulnerable areas.
Indonesia is planning to move its capital from the overcrowded, rapidly sinking metropolis of Jakarta to a new site about 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) away. Parts of Jakarta, a coastal city home to more than 10 million people, are subsiding at a rate of up to 20 centimeters a year, caused in part by overextraction of groundwater; most of North Jakarta could be submerged by 2050 due to rising sea levels and regular flooding. But, even if the government finds a new home, the millions of Jakartans living in slums will most likely have to fend for themselves.
Kiribati, an archipelago of 33 islands in the central Pacific just barely above sea level, is among the first countries in the world to be threatened by the rising ocean. Some of its islands are already uninhabitable. In 2014, the government bought land in Fiji so its citizens could relocate, though the government recently announced plans to use that land for farming to help feed its people.
In New Orleans, some rebuilding projects have offered low- and middle-income families the chance to relocate to new homes on higher ground, as have buyout schemes in the surrounding state of Louisiana. Similar programs are in place nationwide: As of 2017, the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program run by disaster management agency FEMA had bought up more than 43,000 homes in flood-prone areas across the United States and its territories abroad.
In the state of New Jersey, the government has been buying private residences in areas deemed vulnerable to storms or flooding linked to climate change. It's turning that land into recreational and conservation areas that, as the state's Department of Environmental Protection puts it, "will serve as natural buffers against future storms and floods." The voluntary Blue Acres Program, first launched in the 1990s, was expanded after Superstorm Sandy devastated the area in 2012. The program has since demolished more than 700 homes in the floodplains of the Delaware, Passaic and Raritan rivers and their tributaries.
"The question will be how many properties can the state buy, how much it will ultimately cost, and how many willing sellers there will be." commented Shawn M. LaTourette, New Jersey's environmental protection commissioner.
California is also considering allowing fallow agricultural land to flood to help with massive rainfall events like the mega flooding that left at least 20 dead, breached levees, destroyed homes and at least $1 billion (€918 million) in damage in January this year.
In the Humber Estuary in eastern England, west of Hull, An attempt by the UK Environment Agency to manage flooding along the confluence of two rivers river saw about 440 hectares (1,000 acres) of agricultural land transformed into a flood storage area by intentionally removing part of an existing embankment in 2006. The resulting floodplain, the Alkborough Flats, was one of the largest created in Europe at the time. It has reduced the risk of flooding by tidal estuary waters for about 600 properties and lessened the need for flood defenses upstream. The new wetland habitat has also attracted a variety of birds, insects, fish and vegetation.
It's far from unique: The approach has also been successfully introduced in places such as the Netherlands, India and Thailand.