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Adaptation option

Integration of climate change adaptation in coastal zone management plans

Climate change is expected to severely impact coastal areas due to sea level rise and changes in the frequency and magnitude of severe storms and related storm-surges. This can cause an increase in flood risk, coastal erosion and loss of low-lying systems (e.g. deltas, coastal lagoons and barrier islands) due to permanent inundation. Sea level rise can also induce or increase saltwater intrusion in freshwater systems, further endangering coastal ecosystems. Moreover, the expected rise in seawater temperatures will contribute to restructuring marine ecosystems with implications for ocean circulation, biogeochemical cycling and fishery yields. Biological systems will be affected by ocean acidification, too. 

Climate change challenges in coastal areas need to be addressed through integrated and ecosystem-based approaches, taking into consideration also other pressures, such as the increasing concentration of human population, activities and settlements in coastal areas. Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) is an acknowledged process to deal with current and long-term coastal challenges, including climate change. ICZM promotes a strategic (long-term viewing), integrated and adaptive approach to coastal zone planning and management to contribute to coastal areas’ sustainable development. ICZM must explicitly acknowledge the uncertainty of future conditions, offering opportunities to discuss alternative future scenarios associated with climate change. It should promote a flexible management of coastal zone, by ensuring proper monitoring of the plan implementation, its periodic revision, as well as the refinement and improvement of outcomes according to the learning-by-doing approach. ICZM aims to provide a better context to benefit from synergies and to level out inconsistencies across different policies and sectors. In this perspective, stakeholders’ involvement and vertical and horizontal integration among (national, regional and local) authorities and sectors are key factors of the ICZM process. 

The strategic approach required by the 2002/413/EC Recommendation on ICZM includes the overarching principle of an ecosystem approach to preserve coastal integrity and functioning against the threats posed by climate change. Several European countries promoted ICZM initiatives, including strategies, plans and programmes. Up to 2011, the progress of Member States towards ICZM was tracked by the EU study “Analysis of Member States progress reports on Integrated Coastal Zone Management”, referring to the provisions of the EU Recommendation on ICZM (2002/413/EC). The 2014 EU Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) recommends Members States to consider land-sea interactions in developing their MSP plans. It is therefore expected that the MSP plans to be finalised in 2021 by the EU countries will also include relevant ICZM concepts and contents. Practices and pilot actions on ICZM across Member States are stored in the European Atlas of the Seas, which embraces the results of the Ourcoast Project, and in the European Maritime Spatial Planning Platform. 

Coastal plans to contrast erosion and flooding (often referred to as shoreline management plans, coastal defence plans, coastal protection action plans, etc.) provide an assessment of coastal risks among ICZM-related instruments. They also present a long-term framework (including concrete actions) to reduce these risks to people and the coastal environment sustainably. These plans are high-level operational documents that form an important element of flood and coastal erosion risk management strategies. They are often based on the identification of management units which can be delimited according to hydraulic, morphological and sediment transport criteria. With climate change and rising sea levels, options for shoreline management can include a wide range of green (e.g. beach and shoreface nourishment, dune construction and strengthening, restoration and management of coastal wetlands) and grey categories of interventions (e.g. storm surge gates and flood barriers; groynes, breakwaters and artificial reefs; seawalls and jetties).  

Additional Details
Reference information

Adaptation Details

IPCC categories

Institutional: Government policies and programmes, Institutional: Law and regulations

Stakeholder participation

Stakeholder involvement and participation are some of the key principles and requirements of an ICZM process. The 2002 EU Recommendation on ICZM stresses the importance of involving all parties and all levels concerned (including national, regional and local administrations, economic operators, social actors, non-governmental organisations, organisations representing local communities, research institutions, etc.) in the ICZM process and the elaboration of related strategies and plans. Stakeholder participation is considered a cross-cutting activity pertinent to all steps of the ICZM process; therefore, establishing it from an early stage is vital. Some aspects of the ICZM process are particularly relevant for stakeholder participation, i.e., data and information sharing, common agreement on strategic objectives and future vision, consensus-building on and public acceptance of ICZM strategies and plans, transparent communication, monitoring and adjustment of ICZM implementation. Indeed, coastal policies, strategy and plan can only be successfully implemented if full stakeholder participation and support is ensured. 

There are many different ways of public participation in ICZM, including:  

  • Informing the public about the ICZM process, objectives and progress results; 
  • Increasing public awareness and developing training opportunities on coastal issues and ICZM principles; 
  • Involving stakeholders in the preparation of decisions forming the ICZM strategy and/or  plan; 
  • Constructing strategic alliances or partnerships among different subjects (e.g., local authorities, experts and local communities) to promote and implement ICZM.  

Cross-border cooperation is highly recommended not only to ensure coherence and coordination of ICZM strategies and plans developed by bordering countries, but also to share and join resources and competence in tackling transboundary issues, e.g.: sustainable management of limited resources (e.g. submarine sand deposits, which are strategic resources for beach nourishment in some marine areas), preservation of fish stock at a basin or sub-basin level, networking of coastal and marine protected areas, development of common economic vision and strategies to foster investments on sustainable development, etc. Best practices analysed by the EC-funded Ourcoast project provided various examples of stakeholder participation initiatives within ICZM (Integrated Coastal Zone Management – Participation practices in Europe), highlighting that though public participation may imply more time for a decision to be taken, it can promote a more cost-effective process and provide accepted choices.  

Success and Limiting Factors

Main ICZM success factors for climate change adaptation of coastal areas can be identified in some of its key principles and approaches, i.e.:  

  • (Coordination among administrations and integration of competences beyond sector fragmentation; 
  • Cross-border cooperation on common transboundary issues; 
  • Stakeholder involvement and public participation in particular to ensure public acceptance of ICZM strategy and plan; 
  • Long-term view and adaptive management approach; 
  • Provision of a general framework that can be targeted to local specificities and different scales (from national to local).  

ICZM can be fostered by initiatives facilitating the sharing of good practices among stakeholders, policy and decision-makers. The ICZM Platform managed by UNEP/MAP PAP RAC (especially for the Mediterranean region) and the MSP Platform (at the European level) are important tools acting in this direction. According to the report “The way to a regional framework for ICZM in the Mediterranean 2017-2021”, elements that can negatively affect the ICZM process, hindering its real implementation, are: 

  • Governance aspects, e.g. lack of political commitment, lack of shared vision and priorities, lack of recognized leadership, lack of coordination. 
  • Legal and institutional aspects; need to adapt national legislation in order to streamline ICZM, lack of national strategies, lack of coherence between national and subnational laws; 
  • Information and knowledge; lack of shared databases, GIS tools and platforms, limited access to existing information and knowledge; 
  • Capacity and skills; need to train ICZM stakeholders, lack of expertise. 

An improved understanding and demonstration of concrete socio-economic benefits (in addition to environmental benefits that are generally better known and more easily perceived), particularly for local coastal communities, would strengthen the real implementation of ICZM processes and the wide acceptance of ICZM strategies and plans. 

Costs and Benefits

Costs of the elaboration and implementation of ICZM strategies and plans are highly site-specific, depending on the scope, the adopted approach, the considered spatial scale, the implemented steps within the ICZM process, etc. Since 1985, UNEP/MAP PAP RAC has coordinated the Coastal Area Management Programme (CAMP), aiming to implement practical coastal management projects in selected Mediterranean coastal areas, applying ICZM as a major framework and thus facilitating the implementation of the Protocol on Integrated Coastal Zone Management in Mediterranean countries. The projects have an average budget of € 300,000, provided by the Mediterranean Trust Fund and national, regional and local funds.  

The main expected benefit is the sustainable management of the coastal space and the related land and marine resources. This implies the balance of different goals and needs, such as: economic development including benefits to local communities, social benefits ensuring that the coast is an attractive and safe place where people live and work, protection of the quality of the coastal environment and preservation of coastal habitats and biodiversity. Indeed, ICZM is expected to go beyond the fragmentation of competencies and to promote integration among sectors and different administrations actively. Based also on the Ourcoast project publication “Socio-economic benefits from ICZM practices around Europe”, the following governance and socio-economic related benefits of ICZM can be identified: 

  • Improved exchange of data and information, with the possible reduction of data gathering and acquisition costs; 
  • Decrease in costs related to lack of coordination among different authorities; 
  • Improved decision-making and more coherent coastal spatial planning that can also accelerate bureaucratic procedures and improve the investment climate; 
  • Decrease of conflicts, and related transition costs, among human activities (including nature protection) occurring along the coast and possible capitalisation of synergy in the use of the same coastal space; 
  • Improved preservation of environmental quality, nature conservation and preservation of coastal and marine resources, which are the fundamental basis for some coastal economic activities (e.g., fishery and aquaculture or bathing and naturalistic tourism); 
  • Socio-economic sustainability of coastal communities; 
  • Better preparation to climate change and therefore reduction of adaptation costs. 


The Recommendation of the European Parliament and the Council 2002/413/EC identifies the general principles of the ICZM approach. It promotes the development of national ICZM strategies and  transboundary cooperation in coastal zone planning and management. In March 2013, the Commission launched an initiative proposing a directive establishing a framework for maritime spatial planning and integrated coastal management (EC COM(2013) 133), aiming at promoting the sustainable growth of maritime and coastal economies and the sustainable use of marine and coastal resources. The finally approved Directive establishing a framework for Maritime Spatial Planning in Europe focuses on MSP rather than explicitly addressing ICZM. Nevertheless, the directive stresses the importance of considering land-sea interactions. Specifically art. 7 states: “In order to take into account land-sea interactions in accordance with Article 4(2), should this not form part of the maritime spatial planning process as such, Member States may use other formal or informal processes, such as integrated coastal management. The outcome shall be reflected by Member States in their maritime spatial plans”. 

Having been ratified by six countries (including European Union), on 24th March 2011, the Protocol on Integrated Coastal Zone Management to the Barcelona Convention entered into force. This step implied that the Protocol became part of EU laws, becoming legally binding for Mediterranean countries. The “Common Regional Framework (CRF) for ICZM” (2019) is the strategic instrument meant to facilitate the implementation of the ICZM Protocol according to common principles. The CRF introduces Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) as the main tool and process for implementing ICZM in the marine part of the coastal zone, and specifically for its sustainable planning and management. 

Implementation Time

Typically, the elaboration of an ICZM strategy and plan can require 2-4 years. 

Life Time

ICZM plans are based on a long-term vision, especially when explicitly considering climate change. The plans typically propose measures for a 10-15 years period, including short-term (1-2 years), medium-term (2-5 years) and long-term measures. The envisaged solutions must be adaptable to uncertainties and the plan needs to be periodically revised according to the latest knowledge on coastal dynamics and climate change scenarios 

Reference information


    Land Sea Interactions in Maritime Spatial Planning, EC brochure.

    EC (2010). Science for Environmental policy. Special issue on coastal management 

    Published in Climate-ADAPT Jun 07 2016   -   Last Modified in Climate-ADAPT Dec 12 2023

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