IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

12.5.2 Coastal and marine systems

Strategies for adapting to sea-level rise are well documented (Smith et al., 2000; IPCC, 2001; Vermaat et al., 2005). Although a large part of Europe’s coastline is relatively robust to sea-level rise (Stone and Orford, 2004), exceptions are the subsiding, geologically ‘soft’, low-lying coasts with high populations, as in the southern North Sea and coastal plains/deltas of the Mediterranean, Caspian and Black Seas. Adaptation strategies on low-lying coasts have to address the problem of sediment loss from marshes, beaches and dunes (de Groot and Orford, 2000; Devoy et al., 2000). The degree of coastal erosion that may result from sea-level rise is very uncertain (Cooper and Pilkey, 2004), though feedback processes in coastal systems do provide a means of adaptation to such changes (Devoy, 2007). Modelling changes in coastal sediment flux under climate warming scenarios shows some ‘soft’ coasts responding with beach retreat rates of >40 m/100 years, contrasting with gains in others by accretion of about 10 m/100 years (Walkden and Hall, 2005; Dickson et al., 2007).

The development of adaptation strategies for coastal systems has been encouraged by an increase in public and scientific awareness of the threat of climate change to coastlines (Nicholls and Klein, 2004). Many countries in north-west Europe have adopted the approach of developing detailed shoreline management plans that link adaptation measures with shoreline defence, accommodation and retreat strategies (Cooper et al., 2002; Defra, 2004b; Hansom et al., 2004). Parts of the Mediterranean and eastern European regions have been slower to follow this pattern and management approaches are more fragmented (Tol et al., 2007).

A key element of adaptation strategies for coastlines is the development of new laws and institutions for managing coastal land (de Groot and Orford, 2000; Devoy, 2007). For example, no EU Directive exists for coastal management, although EU member governments were required to develop and publish coastal policy statements by 2006. The lack of a Directive reflects the complexity of socio-economic issues involved in coastal land use and the difficulty of defining acceptable management strategies for the different residents, users and interest groups involved with the coastal region (Vermaat et al., 2005).