Climate change: escaping or standing still?

Researchers plead for an orderly withdrawal from endangered coastal areas

In the long run, many coastal areas could become victims of the rising seas, despite protective measures. © unterorld111 / iStock
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Displaced by water: For many coastal areas, climate change could only provide a long-term solution: orderly withdrawal. Therefore, researchers are calling for planning to begin such relocation already now - because only then could this be socially and economically compatible. Instead of investing only in coastal protection, strategies for an orderly withdrawal should already be developed, according to the scientists in the journal "Science".

Rising sea levels put many coastal areas at risk - more frequent storms and high tides are causing more and more flooding. Already, the advancing sea swallows land, not only on islands in the Pacific, but also in the Mississippi Delta or off the US East Coast. In many areas, lowering the ground further exacerbates the danger. In the short term, coastal defense measures such as barrages or dykes can stop the threat. But many particularly affected regions lack the money for this.

Expensive coastal protection, such as the barrage on the Thames, can only be afforded by rich countries. anthurren / iStock

"Futile effort"

But what should we do? A provocative response is now being provided by Harvard University AR Siders and his colleagues: "In their view, an orderly withdrawal in the long run is the only meaningful response to the challenges of climate change. "Fighting against the ocean is a futile effort, " says Sierre. "The only way to win against water is not to fight it. We have to stop seeing our relationship to nature as war. "

Up to now, evacuations of coastal areas have been considered only as a last resort, as a one-off emergency measure after disasters. After such events, some municipalities have already closed ufernahe areas for the repopulation, as in New York after the storm Sandy. In other areas of flooding, people are already voluntarily moving away from vulnerable areas.

However, according to the researchers, such disorderly, short-term measures are neither socially nor economically compatible. display

Retreat instead of fight

Siders and his colleagues therefore plead for an orderly withdrawal from danger zones. "Sea levels are rising, storms are flooding the coastal areas we only have the pullback here, " says Sniders. "We have to adapt to the changes in nature." For many regions, it would be fairer, more tolerable, more financially secure, to give up a threatened area instead of more and more money in protective measures, which eventually fail.

"In the face of global warming, rising sea levels and the worsening weather extremes, the question is no longer whether some communities have to withdraw, but only when, where and how will this happen?" according to the researchers. But only if one thinks early enough about how people, infrastructures and entire communities can be relocated in a sustainable and sustainable way, can such a project succeed.

Different approaches for a withdrawal from coastal areas and the associated costs. Marx Kate Marx

How can the withdrawal proceed in a compliant manner?

"No matter what the circumstances are, such a move is always difficult, " says Miyuki Hino of Stanford University. "People have decided to live in these areas for a good reason. It is therefore difficult to find new places for them that meet their social, cultural and financial needs. "Many coastal areas are also the ancestral homeland for their inhabitants, giving them up is a hard step.

In addition, especially in poorer countries, people often move to dangerous areas because they lack the money to live elsewhere. If they are not supported, the rich go away, but the poor are in danger. "The whole thing is a complicated mix of psychological, economic and social aspects, " says Sierre. In order to do justice to these aspects, an orderly withdrawal must be embedded in comprehensive strategies for the future of those affected and those areas, as the researchers emphasize.

"One big danger is that we are so fixated on getting the people out of the risk areas that we miss the chance to offer them future opportunities, " Hino says.

Planning must begin now

As the researchers emphasize, such a strategic retreat will not be needed next year, and probably not in the next decade. But it was all the more important to use the remaining time for the planning. "We will need new approaches to tackle future large-scale retreats that climate change will bring, " the researchers said.

They are therefore appealing to governments, communities and science to work on such strategies already. "The history of the withdrawal in response to climate change has just begun, " says co-author Katharine Mach of Stanford University. (Science, 2019; doi: 10.1126 / science.aax8346)

Source: Stanford University, Delaware University

- Nadja Podbregar