AGCI Insight

New community of practice brings sea level rise practitioners together to advance coastal resilience

January 30, 2024
Nuisance flood as high tide creeps into Norfolk, Virginia, after a few day of rainfall. Sea levels in Norfolk are rising about 5.38 millimeters per year, the highest rate along the U.S. East Coast. Photo: Aileen Devlin | Virginia Sea Grant

As our warming climate causes ocean temperatures to rise and glaciers and ice sheets to melt across the globe, over 400 million coastal residents on every inhabited continent are at risk from sea level rise and related coastal hazards. While many planners, scientists, and communities worldwide are grappling with the current and future impacts of sea level rise, there hasn’t been a dedicated organization to connect sea level rise practitioners across disciplines and geographies at both a regional and global scale. Until now. 

Enter the Practitioner Exchange for Effective Response to Sea Level Rise (PEERS), the first-ever practitioner-led global collaborative working across boundaries to proactively address the risks of sea level rise and advance coastal resilience. The idea for PEERS grew out of A Practitioner-led Workshop to Advance Resilience to Sea Level Rise, hosted by AGCI in February 2022. One of the workshop participants’ primary recommendations was to establish a global community of practice. 

Learning across boundaries

“PEERS fills a niche that practitioners were calling for: a way to share practical knowledge and learning across boundaries,” explains PEERS Global Director and AGCI Affiliate Glynis Lough. “Part of the ‘magic’ of PEERS is that it connects people across all scales. The similarities in the challenges across geographies and the opportunities to learn from one another are always larger than expected.”

Through peer-to-peer learning and networking, development of case studies and new products, and science translation, PEERS will support longer-term global, regional, and local collaborations, create knowledge-exchange networks to address gaps in local capacity, and develop shared language and practices for communicating sea level rise (SLR) information to multi-interest stakeholder groups.

Since its formal launch in October 2023, the member-led network has met with an enthusiastic response from coastal resilience practitioners. PEERS now boasts over 425 members from 54 countries and territories and is growing apace. Membership is free and open to all “people doing coastal resilience work in practice,” says Lough, including planners, government and nonprofit staff, researchers, business leaders, and others. 

Growing partnerships

While PEERS members are individuals, the network collaborates with a growing list of organizations around the world. One early partner is the NASA Sea Level Change Team, with which PEERS is connecting practitioners and scientists to co-develop high-resolution coastal inundation maps, an essential starting point for adaptation planning.

“The PEERS/NASA partnership centers on co-production approaches that begin with the needs of practitioners and then curates scientific information – in this case, three decades of NASA Earth observations – to meet those needs,” says David Behar, Climate Program Director for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and founding chair of PEERS. “We believe an end-to-end co-production ethic will both improve the use-value of technical products and also enhance ongoing collaboration across the science-society boundary.”

PEERS is also partnering with the Institute for Water Modeling in Bangladesh, Water Utility Climate Alliance in the United States, and AGCI, and pursuing active partnerships with leaders in science, engineering, planning, and policy around the world to further the work of its practitioner members.

One of PEERS current projects is planning work around nature-based solutions, which are being considered and implemented around the world in response to sea level rise. “We are first figuring out what our members most need on the topic,” says Lough, “and working to figure out the best way to help. We are always focused on the question: what can PEERS do that will make the work of our members more efficient and effective?”

PEERS officially launched at the Adaptation Futures conference in Montréal, Canada, in October 2023. PEERS Development and Steering Committees, Staff, and Funder (L-R): David Behar, Tirusew Asefa, Abby Sullivan, Gordon Smith, Ricardo da Cruz e Sousa, Lau Jamero, Annie Cao.

Filling gaps in knowledge and practice

A critical role for PEERS is making knowledge about sea level rise more accessible and actionable. PEERS practitioners are working to disseminate practical knowledge that arises from on-the-ground experience but is rarely shared effectively, such as how to consider nature-based solutions under existing policy structures. Just as important, they are translating science into actionable formats that practitioners can really use.

As Abby Sullivan, Acting Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Philadelphia and member of the PEERS Development Committee shared at PEERS official launch event, PEERS provides a much-needed space for SLR practitioners to learn from each other how to apply and translate the relevant science related to sea level rise. “We can’t overstate the importance of understanding the climate system and projections,” explains Sullivan. “But if practitioners don’t know where to find the information, they don’t read it. [Or] they do read it and don’t understand it. Or they read it and understand it, but it doesn’t answer the question they need answered. Then what’s the use? What a missed opportunity!”

Building bridges and enhancing collaboration

For Ricardo da Cruz e Sosa, PEERS Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, PEERS provides the “network of support” he realized he was missing in over 10 years of working on climate adaptation with high-exposure and vulnerable coastal cities and communities.

“As a landscape architect, my ambition has always been to help and work with those communities to increase their resilience, to improve their wellbeing and quality of life of both people and ecosystems. But unfortunately, I always felt… a little bit alone in this ambition, a lot of lack of interest, resources, support, political will.”

“When I discovered PEERS, and I started working with my colleagues, it was very exciting to find out that I was not alone worrying and working on these issues, which has made me very, very happy. And also the opportunity to be able to exchange and share knowledge, practices, experiences, funding sources, all sorts of initiatives that together we can work on.”

To learn more about PEERS, including how you can become a member, visit https://peerscoastal.org.