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Adaptation option

Adaptation of integrated coastal management plans

Climate change is expected to have severe impacts on coastal areas in particular due to sea level rise. This can cause increase in flood risk, coastal erosion and loss of low-lying systems (e.g. deltas, coastal lagoons and barrier islands) due to permanent inundation. It can also induce or increase saltwater intrusion in freshwater systems, further endangering coastal ecosystems. Moreover, expected rise in sea water temperatures will contribute to a restructuring of coastal 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 in consideration also other pressures, as the littorization process, i.e. the concentration of human population, activities and settlements in coastal areas. Integrated Coastal Management (ICM) is an acknowledged process to deal with current and long-term coastal challenges, including climate change. ICM promotes a strategic (long-term viewing), integrated and adaptive approach to coastal zone planning and management in order to contribute to the sustainable development of coastal areas. It 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 ICM process. The 2002 EU Recommendation (2002/413/EC) identifies the general principles of the ICM approach and promotes the development of national ICM strategies as well as transboundary cooperation in coastal zone planning and management. Furthermore, EU ratified the ICZM Protocol to the Barcelona Conventions that entered into force in March 2011, thus defining a common legal binding framework for ICM in the Mediterranean Sea.

Several European countries have promoted ICM initiatives, including strategies, plans, programmes, pilot actions, etc. Great flexibility is left to the responsible authorities in the implementation of ICM activities. However, the 2002 EU Recommendation and EC COM(2013) 133 define some minimum requirements for ICM strategies, i.e.:

  • Stocktaking of major actors, institutions and laws;
  • Inventory of existing measures (e.g. plans) already applied in the coastal zone and analyses of further needs;
  • Mix of instruments to reach ICM goals, e.g.: ICM plans specifying actions for the identified key coastal activities (including climate change mitigation and adaptation), land purchase mechanisms and declarations of public domain, voluntary agreements, economic and fiscal incentives, etc.;
  • Measure to promote public participation and mechanisms to ensure vertical and horizontal coordination;
  • Systems for monitoring and disseminating information on coastal zone (e.g. Coastal Atlas) and the ICM process;
  • Durable financing sources of the ICM process;
  • Mechanism to ensure integration and coherence with Maritime Spatial Plans.

The most recent overview (2011) of ICM implementation in EU Member States is provided by the EU study “Analysis of Member States progress reports on Integrated Coastal Zone Management”, while a wide set of best practices in ICMcan be found in the database of the Ourcoast Project (see Websites section below).

Among ICM-related instruments, Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) provide assessment of coastal risks (principally flooding and coastal erosion) and present a long-term framework (including concrete actions) to reduce these risks to people and the coastal environment in a sustainable manner. A SMP is a high level operational document that forms an important element of the strategy for flood and coastal erosion risk management. SMs are often based on the identification of management units which can be delimited according to hydraulic, morphological and sediment transport criteria. In relation to climate change and rising sea levels intervention options for shoreline management can be grouped in five principal directions:

  • Do nothing;
  • Hold the line; keeping the existing defence line by maintaining or improving the current protection standard;
  • Managed realignment; identification of a new line of defence landward of the original one and, where appropriate, construction of new defences;
  • Move seaward; advancing the existing defence line seawards by constructing new defences, e.g. used in cases of important land reclamation projects;
  • Limited coastline intervention on natural processes for risk reduction while allowing natural coastal change (e.g. beach nourishments, flood warning systems, dune and forest maintenance and reconstruction, land use planning defining building restrictions in coastal strip).
Additional Details
Reference information

Adaptation Details



IPCC categories

Institutional: Government policies and programmes, Social: Informational

Stakeholder participation

Stakeholder involvement and participation is one of the key principle and requirement of an ICM process. Both the 2002 EU Recommendation on ICM (2002/413/EC) and the 2013 communication (EC COM(2013) 133) proposing a framework directive for ICM and MSP stress the importance of involving all parties and all level concerned (including national, regional and local administrations, economic operators, social actors, non-governmental organisations, organisations representing local communities, research institutions, etc.) in the ICM process and in the elaboration of related strategies and plans. Stakeholder participation is considered a cross-cutting activity pertinent to all steps of the ICM process; therefore it should be established since its early stage. Some aspects of the ICM 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 ICM strategies and plans, transparent communication, monitoring and adjustment of ICM 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 ICM, including: (i) informing the public about the ICM process, objectives and progress results, (ii) increasing public awareness and developing training opportunity on coastal issues and ICM principles, (iii) actually involving stakeholders in the preparation of decisions forming the ICM strategy and/or plan (through dialogue, concertation or even negotiation processes), (iv) constructing strategic alliance or partnership among different subjects (e.g. local authorities, experts and local communities) to promote and implement ICM. Cross-border cooperation is highly recommended not only to ensure coherence and coordination of ICM 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 deposit), 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 provide various examples of stakeholder participation initiatives within ICM (see in particular the Ourcoast publication: Integrated Coastal Zone Management – Participation practices in Europe). One of the major conclusion highlighted by the analysis of those initiatives is that beside public participation may imply more time for decision to be taken it can promote a more cost-effective process and provide accepted choices.

Success and Limiting Factors

Main ICM success factors can be identified in some of its key principles and approaches, i.e.: (i) coordination among administrations and integration of competences beyond sector fragmentation, (ii) cross-border cooperation on common transboundary issues, (iii) stakeholder involvement and public participation in particular to ensure public acceptance of ICM strategy and plan, (iv) long-term view and adaptive management approach, (v) provision of a general framework that can be targeted to local specificities and different scale (from national to local). A high number of ICM initiatives have been promoted in European countries; however real implementation of elaborated strategies and plans is generally poor. This represents one of the major limiting factor of this management and adaptation option, also depending on other elements that can in some cases negatively affect the ICM process, as:

  • Lack of funding through the whole duration of the ICM process, e.g. from the strategy and plan elaboration to the implementation of their provisions;
  • Stakeholder disengagement along the process;
  • Lack of a strong legal framework, although for some cases this can represent a strength allowing more flexibility in the implementation of ICM-related initiatives;
  • Difficulty in concretely linking and integrating ICM and Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP).

An improved understanding and demonstration of concrete socio-economic benefits (in addition to environmental benefits, that are generally better known and more easily perceived), in particular for local coastal communities, would probably strengthened the real implementation of ICM processes and the wide acceptance of related instruments (i.e. strategies and plans).

Costs and Benefits

Costs of the elaboration and implementation of ICM strategies and plans are highly site specific, also depending on the adopted approach, the considered spatial scale of ICM application, the implemented steps within the ICM process, etc.

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, i.e.: economic development including benefit to local communities, social benefits ensuring that coast is an attractive and safe place where live and work, protection of the quality of the coastal environment and preservation of coastal habitats and biodiversity. Indeed, ICM is expected to go beyond fragmentation of competences and to actively promote integration among sectors and different administrations. Based also on the Ourcoast project publication “Socio-economic benefits from ICZM practices around Europe”, the following governance and socio-economic related benefits of ICM can be identified:

  • Improved exchange of data and information, with 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 costal 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 of the Council 2002/43/EC identifies the general principles of the ICM approach and promotes the development of national ICM strategies as well as transboundary cooperation in coastal zone planning and management. It also defines reporting obligations of Member States to the EC about ICM implementation. 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 elaboration of the proposal was also based on a wide consultation process and an impact assessment underpinned by studies specifically developed by the EC. After a long debate, the finally approved directive focused specifically on MSP (2014/89/EU). Although ICM is not addressed by the Directive, this stresses the importance of taking land-sea interactions in consideration. Specifically art. 7 states that “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. Information about the process leading up to the Protocol, and Integrated Coastal Zone Management in the Mediterranean in general, can be found on the website of the coastal centre of the Barcelona Convention/Mediterranean Action Plan, the PAP/RAC, in Split, Croatia (see Websites section).

Implementation Time

Variable; typically the elaboration of an ICM strategy and plan can require 2-4 years.

Life Time

Variable, depending on the specific action identified by the ICM strategy or plan.

Reference information

EC DG Environment web-site, Ourcoast project, other EC studies and projects.

Published in Climate-ADAPT Jun 07 2016   -   Last Modified in Climate-ADAPT Mar 04 2020

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