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The challenge of climate change to the European coastal areas

State of Coasts in the context of the global climate change

In Europe, multiple pressures - including habitat loss and degradation, pollution, overexploitation of fish stocks climate change and natural hazards- affect the coastal ecosystems.

The effects of climate change could be devastating to vulnerable coastal and marine areas as well as to the function and structure of their ecosystems. Increasing sea level (1,7 mm/year) changes the shape of coastlines, contributes to coastal erosion and leads to flooding and more underground salt-water intrusion. 

Climate change also causes changes in European seas surface temperature, which has been up to six times greater than in the global oceans in the past 25 years. One of the most visible impacts of the rising sea temperature is the reduced area of sea ice coverage in the Arctic polar. The ice cover in 2007 was only half the size of the minimum ice cover in the 1950s. The diminishing Arctic ice is already impacting indigenous people and the habitats in the region, but according to pessimistic estimates in a few centuries it may constitute threat to major coastal cities in Europe, including London and Amsterdam.

Increasing sea-level affects a significant number of Europeans. One third of the EU population lives within 50 km of the coast. The GDP generated by this population amounts over 30% of the total EU GPD. The coastal areas are important sources of GDP per se. The economic value of coastal areas within 500 metre from the European seas totals between €500-1,000 billion. The costs of doing nothing against the effects of climate change in coastal areas are estimated to be higher than the annual costs of taking actions, which is estimated at around €6 billion by 2020. On the other hand, the net-benefits of adaptation are put at up to €4.2 billion.

The role of integrated coastal management in addressing the challenge of Climate Change

The challenge of climate change needs to be addressed inter alia through integrated and ecosystem-based approaches and instruments, such as integrated coastal management. These are crucial to build the foundations for sustainable coastal management and development, supporting socio-economic development, biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Integrated coastal management is an acknowledged tool to deal with current and long-term coastal challenges, including climate change and its impacts (for instance sea-level rise, changes in storm frequency, strength and patterns and increased coastal erosion and flooding). In 2002, the EU’s Recommendation on Integrated Coastal zone Management referred to the threat to coastal zones posed by climate change as the basis for a strategic approach on coastal management.

The challenges posed by climate change to coastal areas have been also addressed by national integrated coastal management strategies, which have implemented different principles and tools to respond to these challenges: long-term perspective and precautionary principle, adaptive management, accounting for diversity of local conditions, working with natural processes and coherence between planning and management. Relevant cases on implementation of integrated coastal management can be found on the OURCOAST database. Specific cases that deal with adaptation to climate change can also be found on the European Climate Adaptation Platform.

The role of research and EU funded projects in addressing the negative impacts of climate change on coastal areas

In order for policy makers to take appropriate actions, it is important to better understand the effects of climate change on coastal communities and resources, thus carrying out research, collecting data and monitoring the state of European coasts are essential.

In the EU, the state of the coasts is regularly assessed by the European Environmental Agency and the European Commission.

Links to reports and studies prepared by the European Environmental Agency and the European Commission:

Statistical information on coastal areas is gathered by EUROSTAT.

Links to statistics prepared by EUROSTAT:

The European Union provides financial assistance to research and projects which touch upon the effects of climate change on coastal areas (e.g. coastal erosion) and which aim to address the challenges of climate change on coastal and marine areas (e.g. adaptation, blue and green infrastructure):

Coastal erosion:

Coastal erosion is the gradual destruction of land by sea. One fifth of the EU’s coastline is already severely affected, with coastlines retreating by between 0.5 and 2 metres per year, and in a few dramatic cases even by 15 metres. Coastal erosion has dramatic effects upon the environment (e.g. threatens habitats and wildlife) and on human activity (e.g. negatively effects tourism). More information on coastal zone erosion is available here.

Adaptation to climate change - Climate adapt

Climate change adaptation is a tool to avoid the negative impacts of climate change on marine areas and coastal zones. The Commission platform on European Climate Adaptation 'Climate-Adapt' deals with all aspects related to climate change adaptation, including a specific section on adaptation in coastal areas.

The EU provides funding for climate change adaptation measures under the Structural and Cohesion Funds and the EU Research Framework Programmes.

Examples of EU funded projects focusing on climate change adaptation in coastal areas:

IMCORE Project- Innovative Management for Europe’s Changing Coastal Resource

Objective(s): The overall objective of the project is to promote a transnational, innovative and sustainable approach to reducing the Ecological Social and Economic impacts of climate change on the coastal resources of NWE.

Timeframe: The implementation of the project started in January 2007 and finished in 2012.

Budget: The project is operating with an overall budget of 5,993,551.34, out of which the EC contribution is 2,996,775.67 (ERDF).

Beneficiary: EU Member States

Partners: The project is led by the National University of Ireland Cork. There are 17 partners involved in the implementation of the project.

Website and sources of information:

BALTCICA- Climate Change: Impacts, Costs and Adaptation in the Baltic Sea Region

Objective(s): The aim of the project is to achieve a better capability to deal with the impacts of climate change at those levels, where concrete adaptation measures have to be implemented and are visible/tangible for the population.

Timeframe: The implementation of the project started in January 2009 and will be finished in January 2012.

Budget: The project is operating with an overall budget of 397.650 € funded by EU “European Regional Development Fund”, INTERREG, BSR Programme.

Beneficiary: EU Member States- Baltic countries

Partners: The lead partner of the project is the Geological Survey of Finland (GTK) and the partnership comprises 24 partners including municipalities, regional authorities and research institutes.

Website and sources of information:

Link to other projects on climate change adaptation in coastal areas:

Blue and green infrastructure:

"Green Infrastructure" plays a major role in mitigating and adapting to climate change. It contributes to strengthening ecosystem services and supports the central role that biodiversity plays in reducing the impact of, and adapting to, climate change. Connecting areas in water and marine regions is one aspect of the concept of green infrastructure.

Example of an EU funded project focusing on blue and green infrastructure

GRABS Project- Green and Blue Space Adaptation for Urban Areas and Eco Towns

Objective(s):  Raising awareness and increasing the expertise of key bodies responsible for spatial planning and development as to how green and blue infrastructure can help new and existing mixed use urban development adapt to projected climate scenarios.

Assessing the delivery mechanisms that exist for new urban mixed use development and urban regeneration in each partner country and to develop good practice adaptation action plans to co-ordinate the delivery of urban greening and adaptation strategies, as well as cooperation amongst planners, policy-makers, stakeholders, and local communities.

Developing an innovative, cost effective and user friendly risk and vulnerability assessment tool, to aid the strategic planning of climate change adaptation responses.

Improving stakeholder and community understanding and involvement in planning, delivering and managing green infrastructure in new and existing urban mixed use development, based on positive community involvement techniques.

Timeframe: The timescale associated with the implementation of the project is 1/9/2008-31/8/2011.

Budget: The total value of the project is € 3,02 million. The funding instrument is INTERREG IVC, which is financed by the European Regional Development Fund.

Beneficiary country: EU Member States.

Partners: The GRaBS project has 14 partners, drawn from eight member states: TCPA, University of Manchester, London Borough of Sutton, NWDA, Southampton City Council, Provincial Government of Styria, Municipality of Kalamaria, KU CORPI, The Amsterdam City District of Nieuw-West, Regional Environment Centre for Eastern Europe (Slovakia), Etnambiente SRL, University of Catania, Province of Genoa, City of Malmö.

Website and sources of information:     

ECOSHAPE- Building with nature


  • to collect/develop ecosystem knowledge in order to make building with nature possible,
  • to research how the Building with Nature concept can be introduced into society and to ensure that this happens
  • to develop design rules and standards based on scientific principles
  • to develop expertise relating to the application of the Building with Nature concept
  • to make the concept concrete on the basis of examples of Building with Nature solutions in "wet" hydraulic engineering

Timeframe: The implementation of the project started in 2008.

Budget: EcoShape receives co-financing from the ERDF, the municipality of Dordrecht, the Water Innovation Chain and the Rijkswaterstaat (The Netherlands)

Website and sources of information: