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There is widespread concern in academia and the media in general that in the future many coastal communities will be forced to relocate in the face of rising water levels. However, there is little evidence of any relocation actually taking place, even when there are a number of examples of coastal areas being regularly flooded due to relative sea level rise caused by groundwater extraction or earthquake induced subsidence. To better understand the consequences of future sea level rise this keynote speech will analyse a number of instances of land subsidence that have taken place in the 20th and early 21st centuries (such as low-lying coastal areas of Tokyo, ports in Jakarta, and the experience of the small coral islands on the Danajon bank in the Philippines). In all cases the inhabitants of such densely populated coastal areas remain in place, despite the challenge of living with higher water levels. Through such case studies the actual adaptation pathways of both residential areas and ports can be better understood. Thus, while it is clear that sea level rise will pose an additional financial strain on urbanised coastal areas, there is presently no evidence that any major coastal settlements will surrender a significant portion of their land area to the sea, given the range of adaptation options available. Rather, the opposite would appear to be true, and that new lines of defence will be built further into the water, effectively meaning that humans will continue to encroach on the sea.

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