April 29, 2019

Georgetown Climate Center Aids Coastal Communities in Preparing for Rising Seas

As climate change increasingly impacts people, infrastructure, and natural resources globally, the Georgetown Climate Center (GCC) is aiding governments in building resilience and developing adaptation solutions.

Uwe Brandes presents during a symposium on managed retreat.
Uwe Brandes presents during a symposium on managed retreat.

Based at Georgetown Law Center, the GCC was launched by state leaders and funders in 2009 to inform the federal dialogue on climate and provide direct legal and policy support to communities and policymakers charged with developing effective climate and energy policies.

“It’s really important for practitioners like ourselves—who are doing applied work to tackle these problems—to really get in a room with these policymakers who are grappling with these issues on the ground,” said Jessica Grannis, the adaptation program director of GCC.

Global and Local Effects

Elizabeth Ferris, a research professor with the Institute for the Study of International Migration who also served as a partner with GCC on a recent symposium on managed retreat, highlighted the migration implications of climate change and their effects on coastal communities. 

“It is fascinating to compare the experiences of U.S. coastal communities with those in other parts of the world facing similar dilemmas,” Ferris said. “Unlike other forms of displacement, climate change affects both developed and developing countries.”

The issue hits particularly close to home for Vicki Arroyo, executive director of GCC and professor of practice at Georgetown Law. Arroyo is a native of Louisiana, and her family was affected by hurricanes like Katrina and Ivan. She highlighted the sensitivity of the subject, acknowledging that coastal living is often inextricably linked to the sense of community that many people feel. 

“As someone whose family in South Louisiana has been affected by major storms, including losing their homes in Katrina and living with me for several months, I’ve seen the wrenching decisions that are in store for people living in coastal communities,” Arroyo said.

Participants engage with speakers during the symposium.
Participants engage with speakers during the symposium.

An Interdisciplinary Approach

Arroyo said that the interdisciplinary nature of GCC’s approach and its engagement with other Georgetown units, academic and governmental institutions, and community stakeholders is critical to building policies that diminish the effects of climate change.

“By bringing together leaders from states and communities on the front lines of climate impacts with experts from across Georgetown and other academic institutions, government agencies, and others working on these issues, we can anticipate changes and undertake planning efforts that help minimize human suffering,” Arroyo said.

Roundtable on Managed Retreat

As climate change and rising seas continue to threaten coastal communities specifically, climate experts have identified managed retreat as an adaptive solution to this challenge.

GCC recently welcomed a variety of experts to a roundtable symposium on how to plan systematic migration away from coastlines as a response to rising sea levels and impacts from extreme storms, floods, and erosion. 

Their convening built on previous workshops held in other regions and was supported by a grant from the Georgetown Environment Initiative Impact Program, which provides seed funding for interdisciplinary collaboration on environmental issues at Georgetown. 

Uwe Brandes, faculty director of the Urban & Regional Planning Program at Georgetown’s School of Continuing Studies and a member of the faculty advisory team for the roundtable, noted how the conference and its support from Georgetown is advancing cutting-edge solutions. 

“These are critical issues for the Georgetown Urban & Regional Planning Program, and the GEI grant is ensuring that Georgetown is at the forefront of innovating these local government practices,” he said.

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