The Unusual Suspects: Climate Change Adaptation in Coastal Small Cities and Towns

18:00 Tuesday 28 May




James Fitton (Denmark) 1; Martin Lehmann (Denmark) 1; David Major (United States of America) 2

1 - Aalborg University; 2 - Columbia University


Coastal cities face many impacts from climate change, such as sea level rise, storm surges, flooding, erosion, and salt-water intrusion. Major cities such as New York and Copenhagen, which have access to significant finance and expertise, have taken the lead and developed comprehensive and innovative adaptation frameworks. In contrast, smaller coastal communities (urban areas with less than 100,000 people) often have limited information about local climate change impacts, and lack both the financial resources and the engineering and planning bases to develop appropriate measures. A special issue is being developed that identifies challenges and opportunities of adaptation in coastal towns and small cities and the knowledge gaps in need of being addressed to overcome some of current adaptation barriers. This paper presents the outcomes of this special issue.


Building on the 2nd Assessment Report on Climate Change and Cities (ARC3.2) (Rosenzweig et al., 2018), the research expands on local case studies from around the world, and through standardised typology developed to support the identification of coastal town and small city ïtypes’, information from case studies was collected and organised. GIS and remote sensing were used to estimate the number of coastal towns and small cities likely to be impacted by climate change. This analysis has been piloted in Denmark, and expanded to Europe, with the intention of producing a global assessment.


This research has highlighted the key adaptation barriers that currently exist across a range of geographic, economic, and social contexts, such as access to finance, expertise, and relevant knowledge. The results of the GIS analysis has identified a significant proportion of the coastal population living within small coastal settlements. These results will allow research to focus on these knowledge gaps within the coastal adaptation field and generate potential solutions to overcome current adaptation barriers.


This research is highly relevant to the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG11, Sustainable Cities and Communities, and SDG 13, Climate Action, and we highlight the need to utilise an interdisciplinary approach. The key outcome of this research is to allow the exploration of collaborations between researchers, policy makers, and practitioners, and the development of a network of expertise that focusses on adaptation in coastal towns and small cities.


Rosenzweig C., W. Solecki, P. Romero-Lankao, S. Mehrotra, S. Dhakal, T. Bowman, and S. Ali Ibrahim (2018): ARC3.2 Summary for City Leaders. Urban Climate Change Research Network. Columbia University. New York.