Urgent need for addressing climate and ocean change adaptation and mitigation principles in coastal planning

Climate change has severe consequences worldwide and most of these consequences, like, e.g. global temperature increase, sea level rise or extreme weather events are becoming dangerous for humans, their natural environment and settlements, while coastal areas/cities are especially sensitive to these changes.

Family walking at winter beach 2021 Jurmala

Family walking along the beach in Jūrmala, Latvia. January, 2021

In case of coastal urban areas, sea level rise and extreme sea/ocean water surges and storms pose the greatest threat to humans and their habitats. By 2100, sea level may rise by 2 m (extreme forecasts) and thus if humans do not mitigate and adapt to the changing reality, their fate will be very uncertain.

Human choices of settling on the coasts are connected with many factors, such as easy access to natural resources, easy and cheap global transport, or development of trade. The European Union external freight, based on maritime transport has been estimated at c. 40%.

Recent estimates show that close to 60% of the world's population inhabits areas, within 60 kilometers of the coast, and according to the United Nations close to half of the world's cities with populations over one million are located in these regions. Therefore, it is obvious that coastal urban areas, which are usually strong economical centers need to invest time and resources to climate change mitigation and adaptation activities and should become the leaders in such type of actions.
According to the IPCC, climate change adaptation means, those actions that minimize the adverse effects of climate change, while climate change mitigation actions, relates to reduction of anthropogenic sources or enhancement of the sinks of greenhouse gases.

It is obvious that both of these strategies are crucial, however, they are different in nature, since they lead to different outcomes. Adaptation is rather related to local and regional scale actions, while mitigation is of a global range, and thus must be tackled on a greater scale than adaptation activities. It is implied that the positive outcome of mitigation actions will be visible after decades, and thus humans need to undertake adaptation actions to face the changes, which we all experience nowadays and will experience in the future.

According to the United Nations, climate change mitigation involves efforts to reduce and/or prevent emissions of greenhouse gases, through such approaches as e.g. creating and then using innovative technologies and renewable energy sources, increasing efficiency of older equipment as well as implementing new management practices and changing consumer behavior. Given the global range of such actions, they can be either of a scale of a plan for a new city, or as local as a new system of city bike paths or boulevards for pedestrians.
In case of adaptation to climate change, an initial assessment is needed of the extent to which climate change is already affecting or will affect particular natural systems and societies. Proper identification of adaptation actions and their further verification, with assessment of costs and benefits, must be undertaken to be able to make appropriate plans and decisions to choose between the options available. Well planned actions ensure avoiding the unnecessary duplication of activities, and enhance sustainable development practices.

In the next stage, measures are implemented at various levels, including national, regional or local, and via a variety of means, such as e.g. projects, programs or strategies. These may include single processes or processes fully integrated with sectoral policies and sustainable development plans.

Monitoring and evaluation of adaptation practices can be run during the entire adaptation process, and the information gained and knowledge created throughout the process can be used back in the process to facilitate learning and that future adaptation actions are successful. In such designed process, monitoring secures keeping records of progress made during the implementation stage, while evaluation seeks to empower the effectiveness of the adaptation actions.

Both mitigation and adaptation activities are not enough challenged by cities, which is due to still insufficient climate and ocean change global awareness. The cities’ low level of awareness related to ocean importance in climate change, results from cities’ general preferences to deal with other sustainable development goals (SDGs), which are usually less abstract to decision makers and other stakeholders.
Therefore, a concept of Ocean Literacy should be widely promoted across the world and especially in coastal areas. An ocean-literate person is aware and understands the key principles and concepts related to the ocean, can properly communicate ocean issues, and what is crucial in mitigation and adaptation to climate and ocean change, can make responsible, science-based decisions regarding the ocean, its resources and the coastal areas. Such skills allow to apprehend the complex processes which rule climate change and its interactions with the ocean (SDGs 13 and 14), and thus empower people with knowledge of how to work across all SDGs, which is a crucial issue for all societies, and particularly for coastal communities.

An ocean-literate person is able to develop and provide evidence-based guidance for adaptation planning, implementation and evaluation. Such person is able to identify and address knowledge gaps, strengthen networks within and across the science, policy and practice to support knowledge sharing, research into use, and learning by doing, and promote capacity strengthening in adaptation among the research, policy and communities.

This text is largely based on information from the following sources:
1. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
2. United Nations Atlas of the Oceans.
3. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
4. United Nations Regular Process for Global Reporting and Assessment of the State of the Marine Environment, (including Socioeconomic Aspects).

Prepared by Tymon Zielinski (Institute of Oceanology, Polish Academy of Sciences (IO PAN) /February 2021/