Managing coasts under threat from humans, climate change and sea-level rise

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Human-led change and other non-climatic changes need to be taken into account when managing the world's coastal regions already under threat from climate change and sea-level rise, according to a team of international scientists.

And this is especially so in developing countries and poorer communities, they warn.

The team of 27 scientists from five continents included Winthrop Professor Chari Pattiaratchi from The University of Western Australia.  They reviewed 24 years of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments (the fifth and latest set being published in 2013 and 2014).  They focused on climate change and sea-level rise impacts in the coastal zone, and examined ways of how to better manage and cope with climate change.

Professor Pattiaratchi said the most important finding of the study was that to better understand climate change and its impacts, scientists needed to adopt an integrated approach into how coasts were changing.  "This involves recognising other causes of change, such as constructions on the coast, population growth, economic development and changes in biodiversity," he said.

The study's lead author, Dr Sally Brown from Southampton University said: "Over the last two and a half decades, our scientific understanding of climate change and sea-level rise - and how it will affect coastal zones - has greatly increased.  We now recognise that we need to analyse all parts of our human and natural environments to understand how climate change will affect the world."

The scientists also acknowledged that long-term adaptation to climate change could greatly reduce impacts, but further research and evaluation was required to realise the potential of adaptation.

"Many parts of the coast can, with forward planning, adapt to sea-level rise, but we need to better understand environments that will struggle to adapt, such as developing countries with large, low-lying river deltas sensitive to salinisation, or coral reefs and particularly small, remote islands or poorer communities," Dr Brown said.

Dr Jochen Hinkel from Global Climate Forum in Germany, a co-author of this paper and a lead author of the coastal chapter for the 2014 IPCC Assessment Report said: "The IPCC has done a great job in bringing together knowledge on climate change, sea-level rise and its potential impacts but now needs to complement this work with a solution-oriented perspective focusing on overcoming barriers to adaptation, mobilising resources, empowering people and  discovering opportunities for strengthening coastal resilience in the context of both climate change as well as existing coastal challenges and other issues."

This new research, published as a commentary in Nature Climate Change, will help in the understanding of impacts of climate change and how to reduce impacts via adaptation.  Its multi-disciplinary approach could be useful if future IPCC assessment reports are commissioned.

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