Global Lessons for Adapting Coastal Communities to Protect Against Storm Surge Inundation

Ben P. Harman, Sonja Heyenga, Bruce M. Taylor, Cameron S. Fletcher
Type of Resource: 
Best Practice / Lessons Learned

Coastal inundation as a result of global sea-level rise and storm surge events is expected to affect many coastal regions and settlements. Adaptation is widely accepted as necessary for managing inundation risk. However, managing inundation risk is inherently contentious because of many uncertainties and because a large number of stakeholder interests and values are mobilised. For these reasons, among others, adaptation progress in many countries has been slow. Despite progress in adaptation research, a critical knowledge gap remains regarding the appropriateness and applicability of various adaptation options, including their transferability between different coastal settings. We review the international literature on coastal adaptation options (including options to defend, accommodate, or retreat) to manage inundation risk, focusing on developed, liberal economies of Western Europe, North America, the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand. In doing so, we identify the favoured strategies adopted by these nations, probe the influence of physical and institutional context on the selection of these options, and identify what lessons might be exchanged or future directions inferred. The review places particular emphasis on the Australian experience as a comparative device to highlight some important distinctions. These distinctions focus on how government responsibility is exercised, including the degree of centralisation; the “fit” of options to local coastal environments and social values (i.e. their suitability and acceptability); and the transferability of different adaptation options in international contexts.