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Coastal Flooding Management Through Public-Private Partnership

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Adanna C. Kalejaye
February 26, 2024

One of the consequences of climate induced global warming is sea level rise, which in turn drives flooding. Coastal flooding has a significant social, economic and environmental impact causing some of the worst human and economic losses globally. The United Kingdom in its register of civil emergencies considers coastal flooding of highest priority risk after the pandemic influenza. Even though coastal cities are prone to flooding from sea level rise given their proximity to the coastline, 40 percent of the United States population live close to the coast. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that there has been an increase in coastal flooding with the east coast experiencing the most frequent flooding and flood days per year over the last decade.

In their study, Wing et al., (2022) reveal that the United States is losing approximately $32 billion USD annually to flooding and their projections suggests a 26 percent increase in the annual cost of flooding by 2050. Although some of the cost of flooding may be visible because it affects individuals and properties, others are not so obvious, especially the costs which affect businesses and the communities. In addition to the costs from injuries, deaths and properties, other costs from flooding include costs from emergency response, the closure of businesses and schools, the cost from the loss of tourism and the psychological cost on the community. In essence, the increasing rate of flooding due to climate change is a threat to the economy of coastal cities that necessitates proper management. The question is, who bears the cost of flood management in coastal cities?

The statutory requirement to provide coastal protection is on the government because as Varian (1992) notes in his analysis, non-rivalrous and non-excludable goods such as environmental protection come under the purview of a public good. Coastal flooding management often requires a high up-front investment for coastal adaptation and mitigation as well as the high cost associated with clean up and recovery after a flooding event—so it becomes a public funding challenge. Generally, funding projects that provide public good benefits is a major challenge for public administration, the magnitude of coastal flooding management makes it more challenging. Several academic findings show that funding constitutes a primary barrier to climate adaptation in many coastal cities. So, while management of coastal flooding is a public good, public funding alone cannot adequately provide effective coastal flooding management.

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 in its preamble recognizes that although reducing disaster is the primary role of the State, the responsibility should be shared amongst stakeholders, the private sector included. The benefits of a public-private partnership given the projections that flooding in coastal communities cannot entirely be prevented are immense. Funding for both structural and non-structural measures for flood management becomes easier as financial capacity increases. Also, increased stakeholder participation shifts the focus from only short-term management to a management approach that will take into consideration the long-term influence on the physical environment and the socio-economic wellbeing of the community.  

Arguments on the involvement of private participation in flood management state that not only will the free-market not effectively provide public goods, but they lack the legal and regulatory means to prevent free riding. This means that people may take advantage of the non-excludable nature of the public good to receive benefits without paying for it or paying less than expected. However, in a recent study on flood management, Bouchard St- Amant et al., (2023) revealed that a combined public-private management approach generates greater welfare, offers greater efficiency and yields better distribution of risk between the public and private sector.   

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) administered by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is sort of a public-private partnership where the government as guarantor bears the risk and oversees floodplain mapping while the private insurers handle administration. The uncertainty of climate change coupled with the rising frequency of coastal flooding creates an imbalance in this arrangement, especially as the state is still saddled with the duty of providing infrastructure in place against flooding risk. The benefits of a public-private partnership are achieved in coastal risk management when both sectors are involved and interdependent. Such involvement often yields innovative solutions as is the case in Fort-Collins, Colorado where the collaboration of the public, private companies and the research institutions helped develop a highly effective stormwater system which incorporates nature-based solutions that absorb flood waters and developed one of the most resilient electrical power systems in the United States.

Mobilizing private financing for coastal flooding management may be herculean for communities. Some of the ways to surmount this dilemma are understanding what the drivers for private investments are, aligning the goals of public flood management to private investor interests, encouraging strong private consortium, risk allocation and sharing amongst the parties, garnering political support for private investors, building community awareness and support and ensuring transparency in the process. Flooding impacts an array of stakeholders especially in coastal communities, thus in minimizing, adapting to or recovering from flooding episodes, a clearly outlined collaboration amongst the stakeholders through public-private partnerships holds better.

AuthorAdanna Kalejaye is an internationally specialized lawyer in the fields of commercial law, environmental law, energy law and maritime law. She holds an LL.M (Master of Law) from Swansea University, Wales, UK. She is currently a doctoral candidate and research assistant in Public Policy at the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, University of Massachusetts Boston. She teaches courses on sustainable development and zero waste at the Osher Life-Long Learning Institute (OLLI) in UMass Boston. Her research interests are in environmental law and policies, climate change, sustainable development, renewable energy, waste management, policy building and analysis at both national and international level. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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