A Sinking World: A Model Framework for Climate Change Adaptation Measures in Coastal Cities.

AuthorRose, Emma


Climate change has already begun wreaking havoc on coastal communities across the globe, including Miami, Venice, and the Philippines. Adaptation mechanisms may be the most powerful weapons these communities have to combat sea level rise and the other disastrous effects of a warming planet. However, these adaptation programs must fit within each nation's unique federal and local regulatory schemes. Additionally, when they are funded by the federal government or foreign sources, these communities may have to sacrifice some autonomy over their implementation. While adaptation strategies can be broken down into three primary modes--resistance, transformation, and retreat--the most effective combination of each varies between developed and developing countries, the latter of which may possess fewer resources and less preexisting infrastructure. This Note analyzes Miami, Venice, and the Philippines as case studies in order to develop a model framework for adaptation mechanisms for coastal cities everywhere.

TABLE OF CONTENTS I. INTRODUCTION II. BACKGROUND III. ANALYSIS A. United, States: Miami and South Florida 1. United States' Regulatory Scheme 2. Challenges Posed by Sea Level Rise 3. Adaptation Programs 4. Source of Funding B. Italy: Venice 1. Regulatory Scheme 2. Challenges Posed by Sea Level Rise 3. Adaptation Programs 4. Source of Funding C. The Philippines: Manila 1. Regulatory Scheme 2. Challenges Posed by Climate Change 3. Adaptation Programs 4. Source of Funding IV. SOLUTION A. Resistance B. Transformation C. Retreat D. Local Autonomy and Sources of Funding V. CONCLUSION I. INTRODUCTION

In the Northern Lido inlet to the Venetian Lagoon, beneath the surface of the Adriatic Sea, twenty-one massive steel floodgates lay in wait on the ocean floor. (1) Part of the Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico (MOSE) project, the floodgates are engineered to protect the lagoon from the increasingly frequent "acqua alta" high tides and storm surges that threaten its islands and inhabitants. (2) Upon completion, the gates will provide protection by rising up during extreme weather events and--quite literally--holding back the ocean. (3)

MOSE is just one of the countless adaptation mechanisms that cities across the world are implementing in an effort to combat the disastrous effects of climate change, and rising sea levels in particular. (4) This Note will analyze the city of Miami and the greater South Florida region of the United States; the city of Venice, Italy; and the various municipalities of the Philippines as case studies, in order to explore the ways in which cities across the globe can utilize adaptation mechanisms to combat sea level rise. First, this Note will analyze each country's federal, regional, and local regulatory frameworks. Second, it will explore the challenges that climate change poses to each of these coastal regions. Third, it will analyze the adaptation mechanisms each of these regions has implemented to address sea level rise and other climate change-related disasters. Fourth, it will examine the various sources of funding that each of these programs relies on, including what level of autonomy local communities reserve in implementing these programs when funding comes from a federal or international source. Finally, this Note will compare the successes and failures of each region's adaptation strategies, given their nation's regulatory structure and their source of funding. Based on this analysis, this Note will propose a model adaptation framework that can be exported to coastal cities around the world that are vulnerable to climate change.


    The MOSE floodgates serve as a reminder that climate change is no longer a contested issue in the scientific community, nor are its anthropogenic origins. (5) Based on a study of nearly twelve thousand scientific research papers, 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists believe that climate change is both real and at least partially caused by human activity. (6) While Earth's climate experiences natural cycles of warming and cooling, new paleoclimatic evidence has established that the current warming "is occurring roughly ten times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming." (7) Although the planet's average temperature has only risen by 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit since the nineteenth century, the majority of this increase has occurred over the last four decades, while industry blossomed in developing nations and boomed in developed ones. (8) The staggering amounts of carbon dioxide and other man-made emissions that human activity has released into the atmosphere have contributed to this warming by trapping the sun's rays inside our atmosphere in what has come to be universally known as the "greenhouse effect." (9)

    The consequences of this warming have the potential to be globally devastating. Around the world, ice sheets are shrinking, and glaciers are retreating as they melt. (10) All that water has to go somewhere--and it has. The global sea level rose eight inches over the last hundred years, and the rate at which it is rising has doubled in the last two decades. (11) Hundreds of cities in the United States alone are projected to face persistent flooding as the sea rises--these include Cambridge in Massachusetts, Oakland in California, Miami and St. Petersburg in Florida, as well as four out of five boroughs in New York City. (12) Many low-lying areas will become uninhabitable well before they are permanently submerged; residents tend to flee from chronically flooded areas "decades before [they] are permanently inundated." (13) Other major cities facing impending flooding include London, Shanghai, and Jakarta. (14)

    Cities across the globe are also experiencing more frequent extreme weather events. (15) These include more intense tropical cyclones, (16) which move slower, drop more rain, subject communities to high winds for longer periods of time, and cause more devastating storm surges and flooding. (17) Warmer air and sea temperatures increase the number of cyclones and the amount of rain these storms drop. (18)

    Climate change's impacts also include megadroughts, like those that are projected to impact the western United States later this century and could last up to thirty-five years. (19) What were once twenty-year droughts--so intense that they only occurred once every two decades--are now anticipated to occur biannually by the end of the century. (20) And in addition to droughts, inhabitants of cities like Bogota21 and Cape Town also face worsening pollution and diminishing air quality; these effects have immediate consequences for public health and safety. (22)

    While mankind had a hand in engineering climate change and its disastrous effects, the MOSE floodgates serve as a reminder that scientists may also be able to engineer safety nets and protective measures that will offer solutions to these devastating consequences. Governments across the globe are implementing mitigation and adaptation measures in an attempt to adjust to and endure our changing climatic circumstances. Mitigation strategies are efforts aimed at preventing or lessening the impacts of climate change, while adaptation strategies are designed to deal with managing the impacts that do occur. (23) In other words, mitigation aims to avoid the unmanageable and adaptation aims to manage the unavoidable. (24) However, these two objectives are closely linked, and programs oriented at combatting climate change often accomplish both. (25)

    Cities can adapt to the impacts of climate change using incredible feats of engineering and ingenuity. Within the United States, New Orleans is one of the most well-known examples of adaptation. (26) After Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city in 2005, New Orleans improved its levees and constructed a maze of storm gates and floodwalls-including the largest storm surge barrier in the nation, affectionately referred to by some as "the Great Wall of New Orleans." (27) Recognizing the inevitability of rising sea levels, though, the city has gone several steps further and created large-scale green infrastructure projects, including water gardens and parks that are able to absorb and retain whatever storm surge makes it past the city's many barriers. (28) In Colorado, the city of Boulder has adapted to frequent flooding from its many neighboring rivers by implementing "micro power grids," which minimize electrical outages during extreme flooding. (29) Los Angeles, one of the most drought-prone cities in the country, managed to reduce its water consumption by 20 percent, and the city has required residents to replace ornamental lawns with drought-resistant lawns to conserve water. (30)

    Around the globe, cities are implementing resourceful adaptation strategies to delay or reduce potential climate change consequences. In many metropolitan areas, cities are experiencing a "heat island" effect--the phenomenon where an urban area becomes much warmer than the land around it. (31) Heat islands are caused by development, impermeable paved surfaces replace vegetation and open land, while vehicles and buildings produce waste heat and reflect sunlight, preventing the urban area from cooling off as efficiently as its surroundings. (32) In Makati City in the Philippines, three thousand trees are planted each year to reduce pollution and this urban heat island effect, as well as to reabsorb carbon dioxide. (33) A similar initiative was implemented in the United Kingdom in Greater Manchester to promote green roofing, resulting in significant temperature decreases in town centers. (34) Finally, in Bogota, city officials devised a creative solution to the Dona Juana landfill, which had plagued the city with gases that contributed to global warming, air pollution, and public health concerns. (35) By installing a vapor drainage system that collects gases produced by the landfill, Bogota engineers are now able to...

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