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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.

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

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.

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 Conventions 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:


Improving the knowledge base

The risks in coastal areas associated with sea level rise for human and ecological systems have been assessed 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 ESL 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. 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 RISES-AM, 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.

Supporting funding and investment

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. 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), provides 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.

Further information on funding can be found here.

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