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Hans von Storch, Katja Fennel, Jürgen Jensen, Kristy A. Lewis, Beate Ratter, Torsten Schlurmann, Thomas Wahl, and Wenyan Zhang

Coasts are those regions of the world where the land has an impact on the state of the sea, and that part of the land is in turn affected by the sea. This land–sea interaction may take various forms—geophysical, biological, chemical, sociocultural, and economic. Coasts are conditioned by specific regional conditions. These unique characteristics result, in heavily fragmented regional and disciplinary research agendas, among them geographers, meteorologists, oceanographers, coastal engineers, and a variety of social and cultural sciences. Coasts are regions where the effects and risks of climate impact societal and ecological life. Such occurrences as coastal flooding, storms, saltwater intrusion, invasive species, declining fish stocks, and coastal retreat and morphological change are challenging natural resource managers and local governments to mitigate these impacts. Societies are confronted with the challenge of dealing with these changes and hazards by developing appropriate cultural practices and technical measures. Key aspects and concepts of these dimensions are presented here and will be examined in more detail in the future to expand on their characteristics and significance.


Beate Ratter and Catherine Leyshon

Coasts are dynamic places operated on by powerful natural and human forces. They are also historically attractive places for human settlement and use, with a still constantly growing concentration of people due to increased population growth and migration toward the coast. Coastal societies historically have evolved and developed culturally embedded relationships with their environment, which have resulted in different cultural settings, influencing the way they experience and react toward climate change impacts in their lifeworld. Coastal risks are specific to different regional, natural, and societal settings and can be distinguished between slow-onset (e.g., sea level rise or ocean acidification) and sudden extreme events (e.g., tropical cyclones or storm surges). Coastal climate risks come from flooding, storms, storm surges, saltwater intrusion, invasive species, declining fish stocks or shifting species’ regimes, coral bleaching, coastal erosion, and morphological change. For centuries, coastal societies have learned to defend the coast against threats from the sea with a broad range of technical measures based on a long history of trial and error, with successes and failures. Further, for centuries, littoral societies have constructed coasts and infrastructure according to their interests and needs (e.g., engineering the coastline, installing coastal defenses, constructing harbor and landing infrastructures, and even claiming land from the sea). Risks at the coast have always been there—but are exacerbated by climate change. A more integrated and transdisciplinary approach to understanding coastal climate risks is required, in keeping with the characterization of climate change as a wicked problem. The ways in which individuals, societies, and politics respond to climate change are in many cases contingent on perceptions of its causes, consequences, and wider implications. To study climate change impacts, therefore, an improved understand is required of the place-specific perception of coast and of coastal climate risks. These perceptions, along with other influencing factors, such as economic interests and politics, will inform the societal resilience and response of a coastal community. Resilience—understood as people’s ability to respond adequately to shocks and stressors—is place-dependent and closely connected to historic experiences and learning processes in dealing with hazards as well as the existing political and institutional arrangements that underpin governance structures. Resilience does not simply reflect the expected effects of quantifiable factors such as level of assets, or even less quantifiable social processes such as people’s experience, but is also determined by more subjective dimensions related to people’s perceptions of their ability to cope, adapt, or transform in the face of adverse events. Based on the existing place-specific experience of the littoral society, with its liminal environment and development, adaptation strategies and policies for the future need to be developed between the extremes of “living with” and “making way for” coastal and climate changes. Against this background, climate change adaptation (CCA) strategies have to be integrated and merged with disaster risk reduction (DRR) challenges, based on the integration of multiple interests in a transdisciplinary way. Societal risk construction and negotiation are crucial elements of integrative risk management, requiring participative, transparent, and flexible processes for the implementation of discursive practices and—in extreme situations—the transformation of governance structures. To understand and evaluate climate change adaptation strategies and measures along the coastline, climate change impacts threatening coastal livelihoods have to be understood alongside the societal frames of CCA policies. The capacity to adapt to changing conditions is based on the ability to develop new risk cultures and the flexibility to transition by (a) developing new norms, practices, and material culture; (b) resisting the lock-ins from routines and habits; and (c) guiding changes through scrutinizing new options or creating technocultural niches that favor certain technologies over others. Adaptive capacity in coastal societies plays an important role in dealing with coastal climate risks. The focal questions are the following: Which societal frames of climate change perception precondition adaptation? Which risks are perceived? Which cultural and political barriers hinder successful adaptation? How can DRR be integrated in CCA endeavors and future climate-resilient and sustainable pathways?