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Coastal adaptations are alarmingly insufficient, study warns

Global coastal adaptations are alarmingly insufficient to confront the vulnerabilities posed by climate change, warns a new study. 

The experts say that in order to address these problems, decisive action is needed by the international policy community to identify global priorities in key risk areas.

Short-sighted projects 

“Recent analyses conclude that despite adaptation undertaken in all regions and sectors, global action remains incremental in scale: policies and projects are usually short-sighted and single hazard-focused, inadequately address the root causes of exposure and vulnerability, and are poorly monitored,” said Professor Robert Nicholls of the University of East Anglia.

“There is also little evidence of effective risk reduction in relation to implemented responses.” 

Adaptation assessment 

Study lead author Dr. Alexandre Magnan is an expert at the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI).

“Assessing climate adaptation is a burning scientific and policy question because, as today’s global climate risk will experience a two- to four-fold increase by the end of this century depending on the global greenhouse gas emissions trajectory, we need to know the current status toward addressing its consequences,” said Dr. Magnan.

“New, alternative methods to assess adaptation are urgently needed in order carry out effective planning and action, evidence on risk reduction, capabilities and create a long-term vision.” 

Current state of adaptation

Based on 61 coastal case studies, the researchers have provided a locally informed perspective on the current state of global coastal adaptation, addressing both extreme and gradual climate changes. 

The study covered a range of effects including coastal erosion, marine flooding, sea-level rise, soil and groundwater salinization, inland flooding due to heavy precipitation, and permafrost thaw. 

Long-term plans are lacking

The results revealed a noticeable distinction between urban and rural areas. While urban coastal areas seem to have more evolved strategies, long-term plans are conspicuously lacking across both sectors.

According to the researchers, global coastal adaptation efforts have achieved only half of their full potential. 

Low-lying coastlines 

Highlighting the imminent danger of sea-level rise, the team stated that the risks to low-lying coastlines are already detectable. 

“By the end of the century and in the absence of ambitious adaptation efforts, these risks will become significant, widespread and possibly irreversible in atolls and Arctic coasts,” said Professor Nicholls.

“The lower estimates for deltas are still a concern given these geographies’ population sizes and economic importance globally.” 

Global Adaptation Progress Tracker

To better assess adaptation efforts, the researchers have introduced the Global Adaptation Progress Tracker (GAP-Track). This tracker aligns with the framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation established under the Paris Agreement in 2015. 

“Countries still struggle finding a way to operationalize the Global Goal on Adaptation and to conduct the Global Stocktake (GST) series that aims to collectively track adaptation progress and gaps, with a first iteration due at COP28 in the United Arab Emirates,” said Dr. Magnan.

“The multi-dimensional and locally grounded assessment developed in this study for coastal adaptation confirms the need to drastically scale up adaptation policy and action around the globe, from local governments and stakeholders to the international climate policy arena.”  

“We are arguing that the approach developed in this paper can play a decisive role in helping refine both targets and priorities.” 

The research is published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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