Decision-Making For At-Risk Communities In a Changing Climate

Prepared by the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, this report informs decision-makers relating to climate change and uncertainty, risk management, and community relocation planning and sustainability - specifically as it relates to infrastructure.

The first section provides conceptual tools for planning, decisions, and action given severity of damage and immediacy and recurrence of a hazard event. Some of the tools reviewed include risk assessments, community involvement, and strategic management plans. The cost of adaptation versus community relocation is discussed briefly. An analysis of at-risk communities in Alaska finds that adaptation, in providing protection from the risk at a site, may be an option but as has been experienced in these communities, as expensive. In considering measures to protect the site from the risk and fundamentally adapt the community to the risk on-site is dependent on the life cycle costs of the protection measures in the face of the risk versus moving from the risk. 

The report offers general guidance for interpreting models and projections for expected future conditions with climate change, and for assessing the likelihood of various climate projections. Use of a decision matrix for climate change and community relocation is recommended while considering the likelihood of future climate scenarios. An example matrix is provided, which takes into account the likely severity of the climate change impact as well as the uncertainty associated with the prediction.  

The recommended best practices for assessing the likelihood of future climate projections are presented. Decision-making with global climate models is described as an obvious starting point for assessing the likelihood of various climate projections - along with several fundamental problems with this approach. 

The third section of the report provides a framework for risk assessment, community involvement, funding and cost calculations.

Section four outlines considerations for planning. The "bottom-line advice to decision-makers" here is that the planning process should include collaboration and partnership on local, regional, state, and federal levels. Key steps are to identify a lead agency, create a responsibility matrix, identify funding, build legislative support, and engage consultants as necessary.

The final section on Sustainability provides guidance for ensuring that a relocated community is sustainable with regard to transportation infrastructure, energy, utilities and cost of living. 

Appendix A is a proposed checklist for decision-makers that follows from information in the report. Appendix B is a proposed case study to which the checklist was applied. The completed check- list for the case study in Appendix B can be found in Appendix C.


Publication Date: 2010

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  • Scenario planning


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