Coastal Zone

The combined threat of sea-level rise, more severe hurricanes, and global migration toward the coasts has made it increasingly important for coastal zones to adapt to climate change. Coastal adaptation measures must cut across sectors and improve resilience of both existing and planned development. In addition to land-use planning, other laws and programs, such as those governing flood insurance, can have a profound effect on coastal development. National, state, and local laws and policies should be amended to steer development in more appropriate directions. Initiatives to retain and strengthen wetlands and barrier islands, which help buffer hurricanes and storm surges, can also improve the resilience of coastal areas.

A threshold question in coastal adaptation is whether to accept the effects of climate change (for example, by adopting a Living Coastline) or to rely increasingly on engineered solutions to resist such changes. Engineered solutions, such as the levies in New Orleans, often pose small risks of failure, but catastrophic results if they do fail, these are already leading to the armoring of coasts in many places, degrading rich tidal areas.

Finally, early warning and emergency response systems must be strengthened. As Hurricane Katrina demonstrated, both developed and developing countries are vulnerable to hurricanes, and the ineffectual emergency response revealed the challenges of implementing an effective response system. Fortunately, other experiences in emergency environmental response, such as the Joint United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)/Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Environmental Unit (though it does not address climate change) can provide guidance for the development of more effective emergency response systems.

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