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Headlines Published on 15 June 2004

Title Europe’s shrinking landmass

Europe’s coastline is being worn away by erosion, despite a range of costly measures put in place to protect it, say EU researchers. Climate change looks set to put the Union’s fragile shores under mounting pressure, prompting action to mitigate this devastating loss. 

Map showing relative sea level rise at 237 locations along the European coastline © Source: PhotoDisc
Map showing relative sea level rise at 237 locations along the European coastline

© Source: PhotoDisc

Rising sea levels and damage caused by flooding and storms are just a few of the litany of problems facing Europe’s coastlines, according to the authors of an EU report on how to cope with coastal erosion. The report and final conclusions of a two-year study were presented to EU policy-makers and stakeholders in Brussels last May.  

Up to a fifth of the now enlarged EU’s coastline is already severely affected by coastal erosion, with shorelines retreating by between 0.5 and 2m a year, and in a few dramatic cases up to 15m, the study notes. The value of economic interests – industry, infrastructure, farmland, tourism facilities – that could be at risk is estimated to be between €500 million and €1 billion, say the study’s lead researchers from the Dutch National Institute for Coastal and Marine Management (RIKZ). 

The threat to property and industry is compounded by an EU-wide population drift – almost doubling in the past 50 years to 70 million – towards municipalities bordering Europe’s seas. Humans are not the only potential victims of declining coastal resilience, with natural dunes, marshlands, mud flats and ecosystems, including Natura 2000 protected sites, also under assault.   

What’s at stake?
The report, called ‘Living with coastal erosion in Europe: sediment and space for sustainability’, points out what Europe stands to lose if it does not do something about what it calls the “coastal squeeze”. Valuable land and property could be wiped out by rising seas and artificial sea defences seem incapable of stopping the problem – perhaps even exacerbating it further down the coast, say the researchers.

Almost all the EU-25’s members with a coastline – except Finland, Estonia and Sweden – are confronted with a high degree of erosion. Of the countries worst affected, Poland tops the list with 55% of its coast affected by erosion, followed by Cyprus (38%), Latvia (33%), while Greece and Portugal are not far behind. Natural erosion is part of the problem, but human intervention is also a major contributor. Every year, for example, 100 million tonnes of sand is used for construction, damming or engineering works – sand that normally replenishes coastal habitats.

The study, carried our under the Eurosion service contract, provides the Commission with sound evidence on the extent of the problem in the EU, and whether attempts at mitigating it have helped or hindered progress. The data will be used by policy-makers to formulate a set of proposals to ‘mainstream’ this issue in coastal management strategies at the European level, but also at national, regional and local levels.

“We need to safeguard our coast much better,” said the Commission. “In the future, development projects along rivers and on the coast have to be much better screened for their impact on coastal erosion [requiring] more co-operation across borders in Europe,” it added in a prepared statement during the unveiling of the results. The report also recommends more proactive and planned measures to strengthen coastal resilience by restoring the sediment balance, and that coastal erosion be taken into account in development decisions.

Source:  EU sources

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More information:

  • Eurosion project
  • Eurosion results

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