Planning for Climate Change Induced Resettlement: Learning from Contrasting Approaches in China and the USA

Climate change induced resettlement is a reality some communities are already facing, and may become increasingly necessary as the planet warms and weather patterns change. The ways in which communities plan for and conduct resettlement are likely to be consistent with the ways in which they have traditionally made decisions, reflecting their disparate socio-political and economic dynamics. It is, therefore, instructional to consider how communities have responded to similar situations in the past so we can understand how they might respond in the future. By better understanding the various paths followed in similar situations, but under very different regimes, we can identify the strengths and weaknesses of various governance models, extracting lessons for resettlement planning.

This thesis research examined cases in two very different places: The resettlement of Tibetan nomads in Qinghai, China, and the resettlement of some New Orleanians post-Hurricane Katrina. The approach in China might be described as authoritarian, favoring scientific management by a cadre of professional central government planners. The American approach is more market-oriented, with less government involvement.


A qualitative examination of these two cases suggests that each approach offers strengths and weaknesses. For better or worse, the Chinese approach tackles the resettlement question proactively, using information to make decisive decisions. The government provides a standard level of support for all families and holds itself responsible for what happens. In contrast, uncertainty around the impacts of climate change, the inadequate dissemination and consideration of information, resource constraints, and resistance to government intervention make proactive decision making in the American context difficult.

The Chinese approach has some serious shortcomings – resettlement plans are largely generic and thus insensitive to individual needs and preferences. Officials hold a great deal of authority that can be used nefariously. The American approach allows for a much greater diversity of responses and leaves choices to those with the ability to marshal resources, but often neglects those who have traditionally been marginalized. Non-governmental organizations are left to fill the void in the American context. They have their own strengths and weaknesses. Read Todd’s full thesis here.


Posted on December 4, 2012, in climate change and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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