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Adaptive governance and institutional strategies for climate-induced community relocations in Alaska

Bronen, Robin, Chapin, F. Stuart
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2013 v.110 no.23 pp. 9320-9325
climate, geophysics, governance, government agencies, infrastructure, issues and policy, leadership, people, planning, weather, Alaska
This article presents governance and institutional strategies for climate-induced community relocations. In Alaska, repeated extreme weather events coupled with climate change-induced coastal erosion impact the habitability of entire communities. Community residents and government agencies concur that relocation is the only adaptation strategy that can protect lives and infrastructure. Community relocation stretches the financial and institutional capacity of existing governance institutions. Based on a comparative analysis of three Alaskan communities, Kivalina, Newtok, and Shishmaref, which have chosen to relocate, we examine the institutional constraints to relocation in the United States. We identify policy changes and components of a toolkit that can facilitate community-based adaptation when environmental events threaten people’s lives and protection in place is not possible. Policy changes include amendment of the Stafford Act to include gradual geophysical processes, such as erosion, in the statutory definition of disaster and the creation of an adaptive governance framework to allow communities a continuum of responses from protection in place to community relocation. Key components of the toolkit are local leadership and integration of social and ecological well-being into adaptation planning.