A Northeast Safe and Thriving for All (NEST)


A Northeast Safe and Thriving for All (NEST) examines the potential for and implications of climate-exacerbated migration to and within the Upper Northeast. The project, funded by a one-year planning grant from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Adaptation Partnerships (CAP) program, explores how a CAP would help the region navigate climate impacts and societal transitions. NEST defines the “Upper Northeast” as including the states of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, as well as western Massachusetts, and upstate New York. NEST is led by researchers at Cornell University and Antioch University New England in collaboration with researchers and practitioners in the region.

Project Overview


A Northeast Safe and Thriving for All (NEST) examines the potential for and implications of climate-exacerbated migration to and within the Upper Northeast

Key findings

Environmental risks and disasters are one of many reasons – especially jobs and family – that motivate people to move. The Northeast must address drivers of existing vulnerability – especially housing supply, quality, and affordability – while anticipating changing demographic trends 

Roadmap for an Upper Northeast Climate Adaptation Partnership (CAP)

We see an opportunity for a regional Climate Adaptation Partnership to help the Upper Northeast build sufficient affordable, accessible, safe, efficient, and resilient housing; adapt current economic development strategies; and welcome new in-migrants.


Three maps of FEMA risk index covering social vulnerability, community resilience, and potential losses.

From homes engulfed by wildfire flames in the West to entire neighborhoods wiped away by flood waters in the South, images and stories of American lives affected by climate change have become the norm. Climate change impacts are categorized as slow-onset impacts (including temperature changes, sea level rise (SLR), and desertification) and sudden-onset or disaster events (such as hurricanes, wildfires, flooding, and storm surges). Slow-onset air and water temperature changes combined with sea level rise increase the frequency and severity of sudden- onset events such as hurricanes. The United States’ vast geography and its longitudinal and latitudinal location, make it prone to a multitude of disasters such as hurricanes and storm surges in the South and East, tornadoes in the Midwest, and wildfires in the Northwest and West. Both types of climate change impacts and their combined effects have already begun to dictate which U.S. geographies are perceived as marginally safer and more habitable. Compared to climate outlooks projected for the rest of the United States, the Northeast is generally well positioned to be an attractive place to live (climatically) for years to come. An abundance of fresh water resources and lower annual temperatures will likely continue to attract populations seeking out relatively safer and more habitable destinations.

Three maps of FEMA risk index covering social vulnerability, community resilience, and potential losses.


Migration is not a new phenomenon in the Northeast. The historic and contemporary movement, displacement, and (re)settlement of people in, out of, and across the region has contributed to shifts in population and demographics for centuries. Although the Northeast is an expansive and diverse region, there are similarities across migration histories and trends. Employment opportunities and environmental amenities are among key pull factors drawing newcomers to all five states during the last few centuries. Examining these historical contexts illuminates reactions, barriers, and opportunities that may arise if future climate migration impacts the Northeast region. The following discussion highlights how the migration of people has continuously altered the economic, social, political, cultural, and environmental landscapes of the Northeast. This history provides context for the current social, economic, and political conditions that will shape the region’s ability to host new populations. In particular, the challenges that Northeastern communities have faced when absorbing new populations in the past can be used as a proxy for the difficulties that could arise when integrating climate movers with differing demographic backgrounds. Further, a historical analysis brings to light the region’s internal commonalities and legitimizes a regional approach to climate migration planning and management.

Timeline of immigration events in the Northeast


The NEST project sought to determine what challenges and opportunities might exist for communities that could face climate-relatedin or out migration by conducting stakeholder listening sessions across the regions in this study. Four events took place in the spring of 2023 that targeted specific communities in the Northeast: (1) the Vermont and New Hampshire Upper Connecticut River Valley; (2) Coastal Maine and New Hampshire; and Upstate New York’s Rust Belt communities in (3) Buffalo and (4) Rochester, Binghamton, Syracuse, Albany, Ithaca, and the Hudson Valley. The regional approach allowed for close examination of cross-cutting similarities and differences between places regardless of jurisdictional boundaries, revealing trends in community challenges and opportunities, migration flows, and climate stressors. Aside from collecting important information about the current and future challenges and opportunities facing the region, stakeholder workshops intended to lay the groundwork for network building and information sharing about climate preparedness and accommodating new populations.


The sectoral and governance conditions that constrain climate and migration preparedness identified by stakeholders beg the question, “to what extent are intersectional equity concerns addressed by state climate policy?” To improve understanding about if and how the challenges and opportunities of climate migration are currently, and can be addressed in future climate policy, we examined the status of climate action plans in the Northeast. Our review complements the assessment done by Dalal & Reidmiller (2023) as a technical input into the Fifth National Climate Assessment. Our review focuses on the following key documents, which are listed
in Table 8: Maine Won’t Wait: A Four-Year Plan for Climate Action (2020), Massachusetts State Hazard and Mitigation Plan (SHMCAP) (2018), New Hampshire Climate Action Plan (2009), New York State Climate Council Scoping Plan (2022) and the Vermont Climate Action Plan (2021).
It should be noted that while all states in the Northeast have a hazard mitigation plan in place as a requirement for FEMA funding, we only reviewed this type of plan for Massachusetts. Although Massachusetts passed the Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2025 and 2030 (2022), it narrowly focuses on climate mitigation through the energy transition, and thus SHMCAP (2018), which includes more substantive similarities with the other state climate action plans, is more relevant for this analysis. While all plans are considered guiding legislative frameworks for climate action, states vary in the extent to which they have created enforceable targets and measurable goals in support of the climate plans’ intentions. We systematically reviewed the plans for their discussion of (1) climate migration and (2) the intersectional sectoral issues identified in NEST stakeholder engagement sessions. It should be noted that due to time and capacity constraints, we did not analyze the extent to which state legislation in other sectors such as housing, transportation, and economic development, discuss climate change or climate migration impacts or the additional climate legislation that has followed some climate plans in order to address gaps or bolster implementation.

Roadmap for a Climate Adaptation Partnership in the Upper Northeast


Regardless of the exact projections around climate migration and mobility, climate change will require significant spatial and social adjustment to our housing, infrastructure, ecological, and social systems. NEST’s year of exploration through NOAA’s planning grant has shown that climate migration and mobility – both localized and long-distance – can be an integrative and equity-centered lens through which to examine community preparedness to climate change. State governments and academic and community networks across the region have varied resource capabilities and leadership in different arenas in responding to climate migration needs and challenges. Pooling research, government, and foundation resources can enable integrative problem solving and support region-wide learning. Stakeholders across the region also indicate significant appetite and interest in such a regional collaboration. Such an approach is both efficient and timely given the emergence of climate migration in regional policy-related discussions.

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