Coastal areas

Mallorca, Llubí, Spain
Image credits: Stefan Kunze on Unsplash, 2015

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.

Policy framework

The 2021 EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change, in order to make the adaptation process smarter, recognises the importance of closing the gap on climate impacts and resilience in all sectors, including coastal areas. Science-based ecosystem restoration and management helps minimising risks and improving resilience of coastal areas, while monitoring, reporting and evaluation are essential to measure progress on adaptation in different areas facing common climate risks, such as flooding in coastal areas.

Within the objective of making adaptation more systemic, the Adaptation Strategy promotes Nature-Based Solutions as essential measures to sustain healthy ecosystems against the threats of climate change. For coastal areas, this implies, for example, restoring wetlands and coastal ecosystems making use of blue-green infrastructures as multipurpose, and ‘no-regret’ and effective solutions strengthening coastal defence against the impacts of climate change. Carbon removal benefits offered by restored coastal and marine ecosystems is also recognised within the Strategy. In this regard, the Commission promotes new certification mechanisms that will enable robust monitoring and quantification of climate benefits offered by many Nature-Based Solutions in coastal areas.

The EU cross-sector policies and instruments relevant for the climate resilience of coastal areas include Integrated Coastal Management (ICM) and MSP). 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.

The 2014 Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning establishes a common framework for MSP in Europe. Member states must ensure that the planning process takes into consideration long term modifications due to climate change. Although the directive does not explicitly deal with ICM, it stresses the importance of taking land sea interaction into account when dealing with MSP.

Principles and elements set out in the 2002 Recommendation on ICM and on the ICZM Protocol to the Barcelona Convention that defines a common binding framework for ICM in the Mediterranean are also relevant. 

Other EU directives relevant for the sustainable management of coastal areas in the light of climate change are:

These directives have to be implemented coherently with requirements of the Water Framework Directive(WFD), that establishes a common framework for the protection of inland surface waters, transitional waters, coastal waters and groundwater.


Improving the knowledge base

The risks in coastal areas associated with sea level rise for human and ecological systems have been globally assessed in the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC) and in the IPCC special report on global warming of 1.5 °C. 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, was an initiative to share experiences on integrated coastal management. It delivered a database of ICM case studies, some of which focusing on the management of climate change related aspects. Relevant results of Ourcoast project are now included and georeferenced in the European Atlas of European Seas, sharing a wide range of spatial information about Europe’s seas and coasts. Global Extreme Sea Level data and models supporting findings of most recent studies on coastal flooding are available in the LISCoAsT (Large scale Integrated Sea-level and Coastal Assessment Tool) repository of the JRC data collection. The EEA indicator Extreme sea levels and coastal flooding shows the projected change in the frequency of flooding events in Europe according to two different scenarios, requiring coastal protection to be planned at local or regional level. A number of research projects supported by different EU programmes have furthermore contributed with knowledge on coastal areas (as for example PESETARISES-AMBALTCICAFAIR,  EUROSION). Under the European Research Area for Climate Services, ECLISEA aims to advance coastal climate science concerning sea surface dynamics over the European coasts and seas, producing recommendations and best practices about coastal climate and coastal impact aspects. 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.


Supporting funding and investment

EU funding for adaptation was supported by the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020 (MFF), which has ensured that climate adaptation actions have been integrated into all the major EU spending programmes. The new MFF 2021-2027 is providing 30% of its budget to fight climate change. Climate change adaptation is mainstreamed throughout EU sectoral policies, using the five European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI Funds). Moreover, the EU´s Research and Innovation programme 2014– 2020 (Horizon 2020), has provided the framework and funding to further improve the knowledge base, while the LIFE programme supports both climate change mitigation and climate change adaptation projects, also covering issues of coastal areas. The new Horizon Europe includes Climate Change Adaptation among its mission areas. The Mission Board on Healthy Oceans, Seas, Coastal and Inland Waters proposed a Mission Starfish 2030 to restore our ocean and waters by 2030 also including an integrated land sea approach for coastal areas.

Further information on funding can be found here.

Highlighted indicators

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