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Managed retreat a viable response to climate risk

Managed retreat is often considered a last resort, but perhaps it is time to consider it as a powerful tool to adapt to rising sea levels, flooding and other climate change effects according to Zurich Insurance.

The Swiss insurer writing in a industry knowledge article said managed retreat involves the strategic relocation of people, buildings and other assets from areas vulnerable to climate change and natural hazards. It is not a new concept, but New Zealand’s announcement has certainly put it back in the spotlight.

According to the Zurich Insurance document the phrase ‘managed retreat’ in this context was first used by coastal engineers in the early 1990s as a response to sea level rise in Essex, UK. It has since been viewed as a solution to global sea level rise that could impact up to 410m people by 2100.

In some cases, managed retreat includes mechanisms such as ‘setbacks’ that either require new development to be a minimum distance from the shore or restricted in density. But the concept of relocating whole communities is gaining credence.

Zurich Insurance Group head of flood resilience programme Michael Szönyi said, “In the past there was a long tradition of abandonment or managed retreat due to environmental or economic changes, such as drought or a loss of industry.

“There may be a need to revive this tradition again. It is not sustainable to build larger sea defenses or levees along vast stretches of coasts or rivers. Other options will need to be considered. In some cases, managed retreat may even become a necessary response to the impacts of climate change in the decades ahead.”

The document says there are challenges of managed retreat. People are not easily relocated from their homes. They build close attachments to their property, local culture and community, which can cause social and psychological difficulties – particularly if it involves loss of cultural heritage or moving a family from their ancestral lands.



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