Surviving and Thriving in the Face of Rising Seas: Building Resilience for Communities on the Front Lines of Climate Change

From the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), this report explores the increased risks faced by socially vulnerable populations to sea-level rise.  Building on prior research finding that elderly, minorities, and poor populations will be disproportionately affected by climate change, the paper presents an analytical framework for identifying “climate equity hotspots,” or places where socially vulnerable people live that are also at high risk for coastal flooding.

Identify frontline communities exposed to sea level rise risks along the East and Gulf Coasts of the United States. Contextualize why equity and climate should be assessed together and what this means for policy.  

The report first provides an analysis of climate equity concerns, describing why certain populations may be more vulnerable to climate change and how that vulnerability is likely to play out. The second chapter describes the methodology used to measure coastal flooding and sea level rise, as well as socioeconomic vulnerability.

A screening tool, the UCS "climate equity hotspot tool," was applied using county­-level data to create an assessment of climate and socioeconomic vulnerability for 35 coastal counties from nine East and Gulf Coast states - Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana. According to the report, Orleans Parish, Louisiana is the most vulnerable of the 35 counties analyzed, followed closely by St. Bernard, Jefferson, and Plaquemines Parishes in Louisiana and Harrison County in Mississippi. 

Recommendations are offered for protecting climate equity hotspots from climate change. The guiding principle for all of the recommendations on climate resilience is a "commitment to providing communities equitable access to the resources and know-how they need to make choices about their future in a world of rising seas."

Among other recommendations detailed in the report, UCS suggests that:

Federal, state, and local agencies should target funding for preparedness and disaster recovery to communities most at risk. 

Policy makers should direct investments in transportation, energy, health, and shelter to meet the needs of populations at heightened risk.

The federal government should enforce and implement existing regulations and policies equitably.

Chapter 6 presents five case studies of places currently at risk and the social equity concerns in those places.  These include Dorchester County, Maryland; Opa-Locka and Hialeah, Florida; Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana; Charleston, South Carolina; and Gulfport, Mississippi. 



Publication Date: November 2015

Authors or Affiliated Users:

  • Rachel Cleetus
  • Ramon Bueno
  • Kristina Dahl

Related Organizations:


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Assessment
  • Case study
  • Policy analysis/recommendations

States Affected:


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