Long-term climate adaptation for the Republic of Marshall Islands: developing pathways to extreme sea level rise scenarios

Published: 30 October 2020

Sea level rise threatens the livelihood of approximately 60,000 people living in the Marshall Islands, as well as the future development of the entire country, with its political boundaries, natural resources and local ecosystems. Deltares, with sub-consultant Tonkin + Taylor, will provide technical assistance to the World Bank to support the Government of the Republic of Marshall Islands National Adaptation Planning process.

Marshall Islands

The Republic of Marshall Islands is one of the world’s smallest, most isolated, and vulnerable nations. It’s population is estimated at about 60,000, with over 70% living in the urban areas of Majuro (Majuro atoll) and Ebeye (Kwajalein atoll) and with the population declining in some of the outer islands. The country is affected by several hazards, including flooding due to typhoons, swell waves, drought and extreme rainfall, and coastal erosion, all aggravated by the effect of sea level rise and climate change.

Approaches to long-term resilience

As the impacts of climate change and natural disasters continue to escalate, so too will the need to invest in resilience. However, as sea levels continue to rise, and coastal inundation increases, it is likely that a shift to more transformational resilience measures will be needed in the medium to long terms. The investment needs associated with transformational long-term strategies may be orders of magnitude greater than traditional measures, although this question has not been studied throroughly enough to provide an adequate evidence base for national policymaking.

About the study

The study aims to develop a set of pathways for the Government of the Republic of Marshall Islands to consider in its long-term (100 year+) planning for climate change adaptation and to provide estimates of the costs associated with each option. Adaptation pathways will be drafted in close cooperation with the NAP team through targeted and rigorous research, analytical tools and numerical models (e.g. SFINCS). The investment planning will be based primarily on existing and ongoing studies that will be worked up to include new information and datasets for an updated situation analysis. Although the study will focus on the Marshall Islands, it also aims to provide knowledge and approaches applicable to other Pacific atoll countries, such as Tuvalu and Kiribati, through regional initiatives. A further parallel study will be focusing on the visualisation of some of the data, impact and adaptation scenarios produced as part of this study.

Deltares team leader Alessio Giardino: “This study will be a unique opportunity to work with a multi-disciplinary team, involving engineers, ecologists, economists, sociologists, lawyers, policy analysis and data visualisation experts. Long-term thinking is essential to achieve resilience in low-lying countries such as the Marshall Islands”.