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What is coastal risk and why should it be managed?


Risk is the potential for consequences where something of human or natural value is at stake and where the outcome is uncertain. Change is a primary source of risk. PRiME-C partners recognise that change is a constant factor in the lives of coastal communities. Vulnerability is the likelihood of someone or something being adversely affected by risk. Vulnerability can also be seen as the capacity of a community or ecosystem to respond to potential change.


In the European Union, coastal zones are among the areas most vulnerable to climate change and natural hazards. Risks include: flooding, erosion, sea level rise, salinization of water supplies, extreme weather events, and entry points for invasive species. PRiME-C partners found the effects of these changes can be far-reaching and are already altering not only the lives and livelihoods of people, but the balance of ecosystems in coastal communities. Due to a wide range of socio-economic, political and environmental factors, coastal risks increase pressure on bionetworks, community infrastructure and economic assets. For example, predicted rise in sea levels will increase the risk of flooding and erosion in many areas which are popular settlements, tourist destinations, business zones and transit points. Similarly, dense population concentrations and high utilisation of natural resources can lead to biodiversity loss, habitat destruction, pollution, conflicts between potential users and congestion problems.


On the other hand, with risk comes opportunity. Coastal zones are among the most productive areas in the world, offering a wide variety of valuable habitats and ecosystem services that have always attracted people. Human populations have taken advantage of the beauty and rich natural reserves of the 2 Seas area for thousands of years. During this time, there have been large-scale landscape changes which have impacted the availability of land and resources. PRiME-C partners believe the wellbeing of populations and economic viability of many businesses depends on the high quality natural environment of coastal zones in the 2 Seas area. Changing the approach to coastal risk management is therefore essential, as the decisions made now will directly influence the way future risk is addressed.


Risks will need to be managed to make the most of any future opportunities that environmental change might provide. Communities will need to adjust the way they think and act. Developers will need to build based not just on today, but what the future might bring. Planners will need to provide people and the environment with space and capacity to adapt to change. PRiME-C partners consider that a participative and holistic approach is fundamental to balance these sometimes conflicting requirements. Across the 2 Seas area, risk management includes: adaptating to changing environments and economies, holistic management of the land/sea interface and integrated conservation of productive marine zones.


What is integrated coastal zone management?


Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) can be defined as “…a dynamic process for the sustainable management and use of coastal zones, taking into account at the same time the fragility of coastal ecosystems and landscapes, the diversity of activities and uses, their interactions, the maritime orientation of certain activities and uses and their impact on both the marine and land parts” (IUNEP). It promotes the adoption of a joined-up and participative approach towards planning and management of coastal areas, incorporating human and natural factors across land and marine environments. The importance of ICZM is recognised across the world through the Protocol to the Barcelona Convention on Integrated Coastal Zone Management, which was ratified by the EU in 2010. ICZM is supported by the EC publication Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) Strategy for Europe of 2002 in which eight principles of ICZM were adopted, providing the focus for future strategy development and delivery.


ICZM provided the PRiME-C cluster with a suitable framework to develop and share expertise and approaches to coastal risk management and stakeholder engagement. Through the lens of the eight ICZM principles, PRiME-C partners networked their experience and knowledge across the nine projects to draw together evidence, techniques, challenges and opportunities of benefit to coastal managers across the 2 Seas area. This was particularly apt because future coastal decision-making and policies in all Member States will be grounded in the context of ICZM. The on-going importance of protecting, valuing and developing coastal areas sustainably is clearly incorporated in the priorities of future 2014-2020 EU INTERREG programmes.


How were ICZM principles applied through PRiME-C?


In establishing a risk management programme, it is essential to make use of long term and inclusive approaches such as ICZM. This approach can enhance the protection of coastal resources while increasing the efficiency of their use. PRiME-C demonstrated how the eight ICZM principles can be applied to consider and address risk. PRiME-C partners used these principles to look at natural and human activities, consider how future needs could be met and investigate new insights and developments for adaptation. They also agreed that engagement and communication is vital for stakeholders to understand how their property, assets and community may be affected over time. PRiME-C recognised that successful risk management programmes were founded on these principles.