Adaptation through integrated coastal zone management plans and programmes

Climate impacts
Non-impact specific
IPCC category
Institutional: Government policies and programmes


ECCA Lisbon, 2019. Šibenik-Knin Coastal Plan representatives receive Medadapt Award. Project was awarded with the overall award for adaptation to climate change and with the award in the category “Methods for designing and implementing public policies”, competing with 27 projects from 9 countries.
© Damir Matešić

Climate change will have considerable consequences in the Mediterranean coastal area. In recent times coastal zones face ever more frequent floods caused by extreme weather conditions, often followed by torrential rains and storms. The expected sea-level rise will further enhance those events, so that the risk of flooding, coastal erosion and loss of low-lying coasts (such as river deltas, lagoons, low islands) will continually grow (see Coastal setbacks). Salinisation of ground waters as well as of the soil poses additional challenges for coastal zones. The expected sea-water temperature rise and acidification will affect the sea ecosystems, starting with changes in the current regime, over bio-geo-chemical parameters, to changes in fish species, their abundance and appearance of new, allochthonous species. And finally, sea pollution due to floods is yet another effect to be borne in mind.

The Adriatic coastal zone, like most of the Mediterranean, is densely urbanised. The percentage of built up areas in the narrow coastal strip is much higher than the average national percentage in all of the Adriatic states. However, that development regards residential purposes only partially. A large portion of it regards tourism which is mostly seasonal along the coast, linked to beaches, summer and bathing. Therefore, structures intended for tourism tend to be as close to the sea as possible and, thus, in the long run expose themselves carelessly to the risks related to flooding and sea-level rise. Due to exceptional attractiveness of the coasts for housing and tourism, as well as other activities, protection of natural resources and habitats often falls behind. The fact that in 2018 in Croatia 94% of all tourist overnight stays were recorded in the coastal counties illustrates perfectly the degree of attractiveness of the coasts.

In order to preserve fragile coastal ecosystems for future generations and reconcile nature conservation with such dynamic human activities, since the mid 1980s Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) is implemented in the Mediterranean. It appeared as a response to the concentration of population and economic activities as close to the sea as possible, aiming to protect valuable habitats and landscapes, and aiming to find sustainable solutions for often conflicting uses of the coastal space and resources. Climate change and its effects pose additional challenges for the ICZM, where floods and wildfires need to be taken into consideration very carefully.

The Protocol on ICZM in the Mediterranean, prepared within the Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP) of the UN Environment Programme, has been ratified by 10 coastal countries and the EU. The Croatian Parliament ratified it in 2013, while Italy has not ratified it yet, but following the legal regulations of the EU it is obliged to follow the Protocol provisions as part of the EU acquis. The Article 18 of the Protocol invites countries to prepare coastal strategies and plans. Accordingly, Croatia has already prepared a national strategy of marine and coastal areas management and the Coastal Plan for the Šibenik-Knin County (adopted in 2016), while preparation is in course of coastal plans for the Split-Dalmatia County, the Town of Kaštela, and the Town of Vodice within the Adriadapt project. Since 1985, through various guidelines and projects (the most famous being the so called CAMPs – Coastal Area Management Programmes), PAP/RAC has been providing assistance to the Mediterranean countries in the implementation of coastal plans and programmes. In the latest cycle of those projects particular attention has been paid to climate action. The specific feature of coastal plans and CAMPs is the integrated approach, and that requires a holistic grasp of the actual issues and future challenge and, thus, of the contribution of human activities to the climate change.

The key factor of successful implementation of coastal plans and programmes is their inclusion in the existing governance system. By that we understand a foundation in the actual legal and institutional regulations, and the preparation of the documents led by responsible institutions, involving also horizontally and vertically responsible bodies, involvement of the scientific community, local community and all interested stakeholders from the very beginning of the preparation process. Such approach helps create responsibility for and ownership of the plan or programme, and, thus, responsibility for its implementation. Involvement of stakeholders is of utmost importance, especially in the phase of defining the common vision of the coastal zone future, as well as the selection of clear goals and ways of achieving the desired future. During the plan or programme preparation, the possibilities for financing actions and measures are also defined, as well as the ways of monitoring and revision of the plan or programme. Finally, the establishment of a team responsible for the implementation is one of crucial factors of success. Apart from the team of responsible institutions, the establishment of an advisory body within which scientists, members of the civil and business sector devoted to sustainable development of their area would offer support to the administrative team, is a crucial factor for successful strengthening of coastal zone resilience and its sustainable development.

Costs and benefits

The costs of coastal plan or programme preparation can vary greatly. It can start with small funds and great enthusiasm of the local and regional administration, with help by local scientist. On the other extreme it can be a large investment which will create a detailed database and concrete preparation for the implementation of engineering and other adaptation measures.

The funds secured from the Global Environment Facility for the preparation of the Coastal Plan of the Šibenik-Knin County amounted to US$ 100,000. This plan benefited from parallel activities with separate funding. All the other plans prepared in Croatia were at a similar, albeit somewhat smaller financial scale. On the other hand, the study assessing the costs of sea flooding for Croatia prepared within the same project showed that already by 2050 the costs of sea flooding for the town of Šibenik could reach US$ 78 million/year (PAP/RAC, 2015). The preparation of the Coastal Plan for the Šibenik Knin County is the start of the adaptation process, and its implementation, monitoring and revision create foundations for reducing the expected costs.

Typical coastal management programmes (CAMPs) implemented since 1985 in all Mediterranean countries had an average budget of € 300,000. The financing has always been divided: a part by the Mediterranean Trust Fund, and another part by the national, regional and local funds.

To finance the UNDP’s ICZM Plan currently in preparation in Egypt, the Green Climate Fund has secured the amount of US$ 1.7 million, while the Egyptian Government has secured co-financing with additional US$59 million.

A study published in 2020 (Linke et al.) shows that the expected costs of sea flooding in Croatia amounting to US$ 5.8 billion per year can be reduced by up to 93% combining the organised retreat and building of protection structures. Preparation for building protection infrastructure is a long-term job. Preparation of the local community to select the strategy of the coastal zone adaptation and to prepare the implementation of that strategy does not take less time. The Coastal plan is the beginning of this process.

Application of integrated approach enables a comprehensive perception of the coastal zone resilience strengthening and sustainable development. Acting in clusters of economic sectors, as well as of administrative departments leads to partial solutions to individual challenges which, at the same time, create or increase damage in other areas. Climate change puts us up against the wall and requires comprehensive, effective and quick response.

Implementation time and lifetime

Average time for the preparation of coastal plans and programmes is 2-3 years. They are prepared bearing in mind a long-term horizon; with regard to climate change these should ideally be oriented to the year 2100. The plans mostly propose measures for a 10-15 years period, including short-term (1-2 years), medium-term (2-5 years) and long-term. The envisaged solutions have to be adaptable to uncertainties, and foreseen for implementation in phases. Coastal plans and programmes, like all other plans and programmes, serve to guide us in decision making and need to be revised according to the latest knowledge on the climate change. Revision of the coastal plan will revise the envisaged phases of adaptation.

Adaptation ways are shown in the concept by the author Haasnoot with 4 different actions, and the breaking points for taking decisions and scenarios of low and high emission on the x axis (Haasnoot et al., 2013)

Source for more detailed information

UNEP MAP PAP: Protocol on ICZM in the Mediterranean:

Zakon o potvrđivanju Protokola o IUOP Sredozemlja:

PAP/RAC: Summary of the Coastal Plan for the Šibenik-Knin County: PLAN SUMMARY_SBK_ENG_WEB.pdf

PAP/RAC. Coastal Resilience Handbook for the Adriatic. 2020

Haasnoot, Marjolijn, Jan H. Kwakkel, Warren E. Walker, and Judith ter Maat. 2013. ‘Dynamic Adaptive Policy Pathways: A Method for Crafting Robust Decisions for a Deeply Uncertain World’. Global Environmental Change 23 (2): 485-98.

Lincke, Daniel, Claudia Wolff, Jochen Hinkel, Athanasios Vafeidis, Lukas Blickensdörfer, and Daria Povh Skugor. “The effectiveness of setback zones for adapting to sea-level rise in Croatia.” Regional Environmental Change 20, no. 2 (2020): 1-12.