Coastal vulnerability, resilience and adaptation to climate change
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AbstractThe work presented in this PhD thesis has not been carried out within a single, well-defined project. Instead, it integrates the results of a number of studies conducted from 1994 onwards, each of which had different clients and objectives. The common theme of the studies has been the description and analysis of elements that determine how coastal systems and communities would and could respond to climate change and, in particular, how this response may be assessed as part of coastal vulnerability studies. Coastal zones are amongst the most dynamic natural environments on earth, providing a range of goods and services that are essential to human social and economic well-being. Coastal zones represent the narrow transitional zone between the world’s land and oceans, characterised by highly diverse ecosystems such as coral reefs, mangroves, beaches, dunes and wetlands. Many people have settled in coastal zones to take advantage of the range of opportunities for food production, transportation, recreation and other human activities provided here. A large part of the global human population now lives in coastal areas: estimates range from 20.6 per cent within 30 km of the sea to 37 per cent in the nearest 100 km to the coast (Cohen et al., 1997; Gommes et al., 1998; Nicholls and Small, 2002). In addition, a considerable portion of global economic wealth is generated in coastal zones (Turner et al., 1996). Many coastal locations exhibit a growth in population and income higher than their national averages (Carter, 1988; WCC’93, 1994), as well as substantial urbanisation (Nicholls, 1995a). In the Second Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Bijlsma et al. (1996) noted that climate-related change in coastal zones represents potential additional stress on systems that are already under intense and growing pressure. The IPCC concluded that although the potential impacts of climate change by themselves may not always pose the greatest threat to natural coastal systems, in conjunction with other stresses they could become a serious issue for coastal societies, particularly in those places where the resilience of the coast has been reduced. This conclusion has been the main motivation behind my research, which has aimed at better understanding the vulnerability, resilience and adaptation of coastal zones in the face of climate change. The insights gained in the various studies have been the basis of a number of peer-reviewed and published papers, six of which form the core of this PhD thesis. Each of these papers explores different aspects of coastal vulnerability, resilience and adaptation to climate change. This introductory chapter provides the context for coastal vulnerability assessment by giving an overview of current stresses in coastal zones, as well as of the possible effects of climate change on coastal sustainability. It also explores how the three concepts that form the basis of this PhD thesis (vulnerability, resilience and adaptation) have been defined and applied in other disciplines. Finally, this chapter defines the research objectives pursued in this thesis, outlines the methodological approach taken and introduces the six papers. Following the six peer-reviewed and published papers, a synthesis chapter aims to draw conclusions in the light of existing and emerging scientific and policy needs. The synthesis chapter also provides an agenda for research that can build on the findings of this PhD thesis.