Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

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6.6. Adaptation 6.6.1. Evolution of Coastal Adaptation Options

In the SAR, Biljsma et al. (1996) identified three possible coastal response options:

  • Protect, which aims to protect the land from the sea so that existing land uses can continue, by constructing hard structures (e.g., seawalls) as well as using soft measures (e.g., beach nourishment)
  • Accommodate, which implies that people continue to occupy the land but make some adjustments (e.g., elevating buildings on piles, growing flood- or salt-tolerant crops)
  • Retreat, which involves no attempt to protect the land from the sea; in an extreme case, the coastal area is abandoned.

An evaluation of such strategies was regarded as a crucial component of the vulnerability assessment Common Methodology. Klein and Nicholls (1999) argue, however, that as far as adaptation is concerned, that methodology has been less effective in assessing the wide range of technical, institutional, economic, and cultural elements in different localities. Indeed, they indicated that there has been concern that the methodology emphasizes a protection-oriented response rather than consideration of the full range of adaptation options.

Klein et al. (2000) develop a methodology that seeks to address some of these comments. They argue that successful coastal adaptation embraces more than just selecting one of the technical options to respond to sea-level rise; it is a more complex and iterative process, with a series of policy cycles. Four steps can be distinguished in the process of coastal adaptation:

  1. Information collection and awareness raising
  2. Planning and design
  3. Implementation
  4. Monitoring and evaluation.

In reality, however, adaptive responses often are undertaken reactively rather in a step-wise, planned, and anticipatory fashion.

The process of coastal adaptation can be conceptualized by showing that climate change and/or climate variability, together with other stresses on the coastal environment, produce actual and potential impacts. These impacts trigger efforts of mitigation, to remove the cause of the impacts, or adaptation to modify the impacts. Bijlsma et al. (1996) noted that climate-related changes represent potential additional stresses on systems that already are under pressure. Climate change generally will exacerbate existing problems such as coastal flooding, erosion, saltwater intrusion, and degradation of ecosystems. At the same time, nonclimate stresses can be an important cause of increasing coastal vulnerability to climate change and variability. Given such interactive effects, adaptation options to be most effective should be incorporated with policies in other areas, such as disaster mitigation plans, land-use plans, and watershed resource plans. In other words, adaptation options are best addressed when they are incorporated in integrated coastal management and sustainable development plans.

Policy criteria and coastal development objectives condition the process of adaptation. Other critical influences include values, awareness, and factors such as historical legacies, institutions, and laws. There is growing recognition of the need for researchers, policymakers, residents, and other key stakeholders to work together to establish a framework for adaptation that is integrated within current coastal management processes and practices and takes a broader view of the subject. Collaborative efforts of this kind can support a process of shared learning and joint problem solving, thereby enabling better understanding, anticipation of, and response to climate change. Cash and Moser (2000) identify some of the deficiencies in integrating science and policy. They suggest the following guidelines for meeting the challenge: Use "boundary organizations" that can link researchers and decisionmakers at various scales, capitalize on particular scale-specific capabilities, and develop adaptive assessment and management strategies through long-term iterative processes of integrated assessment and management.

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