CEE engineers author Science perspective on climate-induced relocation

person rides a bike through a flooded street

Global environmental changes such as climate change, sea level rise and land use are increasing the likelihood of relocation for potentially millions of people. Current approaches to planned relocation are likely to be woefully inadequate, according to Patrick Reed, the Joseph C. Ford Professor of Engineering at Cornell University, who co-authored a Science magazine perspective offering key considerations and strategies for needed actions.

The policy piece “Planned relocation: pluralistic and integrated science and governance” published June 17 and was co-authored by Antonia Hadjimichael, postdoctoral associate at Cornell; Richard Moss, senior scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Gerhard R. Andlinger Visiting Fellow at the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University; and Julie Rozenberg, senior economist with the World Bank Sustainable Development Group.

science magazine coverIn the piece, the authors argue that given the highly uncertain tradeoffs and consequences of different options for planned relocation, scientific efforts should be careful of claiming to adequately predict the future. Instead, science can help planned relocation efforts by highlighting what actions, policies, and support make people better off across many plausible and challenging futures.

The Reed Research Group, based in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, specializes in decision analytics for complex systems, combining multi-objective decision support and advanced uncertainty modeling techniques to facilitate improved stakeholder decisions. Their primary focus has been water resources management for systems confronting droughts, floods and conflicting human demands. Reed said that while climate-induced relocation shares many traits with his prior applications, it is uniquely challenging for formulating effective planning processes.

Among the key insights highlighted in Science magazine is that relocation efforts should involve more than just relocating populations from one geographic area to another. Efforts should also address the need for transformation within each community’s way of life, such as social networks, cultural associations and economic relationships, emphasizing understanding impacted populations’ needs and diverse sources of local knowledge when formulating candidate policies or actions.

“Proactively engaging with planned relocation as part of a strategic portfolio of policies and actions will require changes to how science and governance are integrated,” Reed said. “By its nature, it requires open-ended adaptive planning processes that manage trade-offs across interests, uncertainties in knowledge, and the inherent ambiguities that result from overlapping jurisdictions, authorities, and expertise.”

Reed and co-authors also argue the importance of expanding institutions trained to facilitate interactions between stakeholders and experts, noting that scientific solutions should better engage with understanding sources of longstanding inequities, power dynamics and conflicts.

The policy piece is one of several published in a special edition of Science magazine title “FALLBACK STRATEGIES: Planning for climate-induced relocation.”

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