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Coastal areas

Sea level rise can cause flooding, coastal erosion and the loss of low-lying coastal systems. It will also increase the risk of storm surges and the likelihood of landward intrusion of saltwater and may endanger coastal ecosystems. Expected rises in water temperatures and ocean acidification will contribute to a restructuring of coastal ecosystems; with implications for ocean circulation and biogeochemical cycling.

The European Commission's EU strategy on adaptation to climate change includes a Staff Working Document addressing adaptation for coastal and marine areas. EU cross-sector policies and instruments relevant for coastal areas include Integrated Coastal Management (ICM) and Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP).

Policy framework

ICM promotes a strategic and integrated approach to coastal zone management aiming to benefit from synergies and level out inconsistencies across different policies and sectors. MSP is a tool for planning and regulating human uses of the sea, meanwhile aiming to protect the marine ecosystems and to safeguard marine biodiversity. The main objective of MSP is to balance competing sectors, maximising synergies and minimising conflicts among maritime uses.

Recognising the complementarity between the two policies, in March 2013 the European Commission developed a draft proposal for a directive establishing a common framework to further promote MSP and ICM. This proposal invites Member States to elaborate ICM strategies and to develop maritime spatial plans also taking in consideration mitigation and adaptation to climate change. Coastal management strategies shall be built on the principles and elements set out in the 2002 Recommendation on ICM and on the ICZM Protocol to the Barcelona Conventions that defines a common binding framework for ICM in the Mediterranean Sea.

Based on the above proposal, in July 2014 a Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning was adopted to create a common framework for MSP in Europe. Although it does not directly deal with ICM, the directive stresses the importance of taking land sea interaction into account when dealing with MSP. Other EU directives relevant for the sustainable management of coastal areas in the light of climate change are:


Improving the knowledge base

The European Environment Agency (EEA) has published data, information and reports considering the aspects of adaptation in coastal areas.

Ourcoast, the European web-portal on ICM aims to share experiences on integrated coastal management. It includes a database of ICM case studies, some of which focusing on the management of climate change related aspects. A number of research projects supported by the FP7 (7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development) and other EU programmes have furthermore contributed with knowledge on coastal areas (as for example THESEUS, BALTCICA. MAREMED). However there is still the need to improve the understanding of coastal vulnerability to climate change at the EU and regional seas level and derive from this knowledge clear indications for adaptation priorities in European coastal areas.

The EU´s Research and Innovation programme 2014– 2020, provides the framework and funding to further improve the knowledge base also covering adaptation in coastal areas.


Supporting investment and funding

EU funding for adaptation is supported by the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020, which ensures that climate adaptation actions have been integrated into all the major EU spending programmes. Further information can be found here.


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