Threats Posed by Climate Change to Coastal Regions Targeted by New Project

Monday, 30 November 2009

The threats posed by climate change to coastal regions in Western Europe are to being investigated by NUI Galway experts together with teams from universities in France, Spain and Portugal. Along with local and regional authorities, the universities have founded the 'Atlantic Network for Coastal Risk Management' (ANCORIM). This initiative has been granted €1.9 million by the EU for a three-year project to bridge the gap between the climate change scientists and coastal zone decision-makers. In Ireland, an assessment of the current planning practices in the Border-Midlands-West region has begun to ascertain how, if at all, are considerations of climate change being included in planning decisions. The ANCORIM team will look at managing and preventing the risks associated with climate change in regards to shoreline erosion, rural and urban coastal land planning, and economic activities such as fish farming. The work at NUI Galway is being led by geographers with the Environmental Change Institute (ECI) and will involve local communities in the western region through Mayo County Council and Údarás na Gaeltachta. Dr Martina Prendergast, Development Manager of the ECI, says: "As a nation we need to realise the importance of 'climate-proofing' our policies. The ANCORIM project is about supporting the futures of coastal communities all along the Atlantic rim of Europe. The support of the community is key to the success of this project, and locally we will be making the most of our close links with the Gaeltacht". The involvement of high-risk coastal communities in the project will be facilitated through focus groups, interviews and other consultative means. NUI Galway's Professor Micheál Ó Cinnéide says: "This work is all the more important because it is well known that societies around the world tend to underestimate risks associated with many natural phenomena such as floods, droughts and earthquakes. Unfortunately, risks to coastal zones associated with the changing climate are currently incorporated in decision-making largely on an ad-hoc basis only in many countries. Planning guidelines that incorporate the risks of climate change need to be put in place". Professor Ó Cinnéide added: "This is not a shortcoming of the planners, or of climate change researchers and scientists. However, the scientific information does need to be made more accessible, and its implications for coastal communities need to be spelt out. As part of this project, we will be compiling sets of best practices and working with the decision-makers as to how these should best be incorporated into current policies and practices". Ireland has already seen the dramatic effects of coastal erosion, especially in County Wexford where some areas are losing more than two metres of shoreline each year due to erosion. It is in situations like this, where coastal land planning decisions would need to incorporate the effects of increased storminess and higher sea levels on rates of shoreline retreat. Dr Kevin Lynch, a coastal geomorphologist with the ANCORIM team at NUI Galway, explains: "Although coastal erosion and flooding is increasingly being seen as a major threat in Ireland, for the most part the response has been to provide engineering solutions such as building sea walls and using filled gabions to stabilise the shoreline. Engineering solutions have been shown to be unsustainable due to high costs and detrimental impacts on our natural heritage. Alternative solutions need to be advanced to combat impacts of climate change on our coastlines. Adapting and planning for coastlines to change naturally may be something in which we will have no choice".
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