WP C: Socio-economic Impacts and Risk Governance

WP C will perform an integrated analysis of sea level change and human environment interactions in the selected two study regions, and will identify sea level stressors, coastal impacts, adaption pathways and policies for the studied regions. This will involve an assessment of how coastal societies have coped with past coastal changes, the socio-economic consequences of future sea level changes to coastal and island societies, and the implications of possible regional and local adaptation and risk management strategies in sea level hot spots. WP C will also use and explore to what extent the sea level rise information generated in WP A and WP B is effective for analyzing large infrastructure and planning adaption decisions in the study regions. By answering questions about socioeconomic implications, adaptation decisions and human–environment interactions, WP C will stimulate the creation of knowledge basis for quantitative coastal zone management studies. The insights generated in WP C will also be essential for directing and readjusting the activities in the other WPs to make their outcome more useful for coastal communities. It is therefore anticipated that during the first phase of the SPP, results from WP C will feed back into WP A and WP B in terms of new questions
asked and information requested.

Challenges that need to be addressed:

A diversity of approaches has been applied to assess the interactions of coastal impacts, vulnerability, resilience and adaptation (Nicholls et al., 2007; Harvey and Woodroffe 2008; Wong et al., 2014) including hydrodynamic models (Xia et al., 2011; Lewis et al,. 2011), morphodynamic models (Jiménez et al. 2009; Ranasinghe et al., 2012), geo-spatial mapping of exposed population, assets or geomorphological units (Dasgupta et al., 2009; Boateng 2012), biophysical vulnerability indices (Yin et al., 2012; Bosom and Jimenez 2011) as well as socio-economic indices (Cinner et al., 2011; Yang et al., 2014). While all of these approaches have contributed to raising awareness of the threats of sea level rise, they have been less successful in supporting adaptation for several reasons stressed in the coastal chapter of AR5 (Wong et al., 2014) and also the Belmont Challenge White Paper.

First, in many approaches adaptation is not explicitly and realistically considered. Vulnerability indicators, for example, are great for raising awareness, but less useful for supporting decision-making (Hinkel et al., 2009). AR5 highlights that only few coastal impact assessments consider adaptation and those that do, generally ignore the wider range of adaptation measures such as ecosystem-based protection options, accommodation options and retreat options (Wong et al., 2014). Assessing impacts without considering adaptation is problematic because this leads to implausible results. For  example, many assessments of coastal inundation assume that development continues in the coastal flood plain under rising sea levels and no protection upgrade. In reality, societies will adapt. Growing flood risk would either lead to higher protection standards or divert new development to other locations and displace existing people and development without protection (Hinkel et al., 2014). Hence impact assessment needs to consider adaptation in the context of all relevant feedback of coastal human-environment interactions.

Second, there is a lack of approaches that assess socio-economic impacts and support adaptation decisions at broad regional scales (i.e., on the order of hundreds of kilometers of coastal length). Knowledge on socio-economic impacts is important because it allows responses, which improve the resilience of coastal societies. Hydrodynamic and morphodynamic approaches are available for local level planning but can generally not be applied at the broader scales involved in long terms adaptation decision making because these methods are data and resource intensive (Dawson et al., 2009).

Third, little attention has been paid towards aligning decision analytical frameworks with the particular coastal adaption decisions faced and sea level rise information. Coastal adaptation decisions differ in terms of properties such as tolerable levels of risk, or lead and lifetime of the options involved, and thus require different decision analytical frameworks (Hinkel and Bisaro, 2014). For example, lead and lifetimes of beach nourishment decisions range from one to several years whereas those of coastal protection infrastructure may range over several decades. Furthermore, the state-of-the-art techniques for coastal decision analysis have evolved rapidly from traditional benefit-cost approaches to novel approaches such as robust decision-making (Lempert and Schlesinger, 2000) and adaptation pathways (Haasnoot et al., 2012). Substantial research is needed to test and further refine these techniques to fit the specific circumstances of the particular decisions faced and to produce sea level rise information that fits this decision context. One particular issue thereby is matching demand and supply. Large scale coastal infrastructure investment decisions such as flood-proofing London during the 21st century, as prominently addressed by Thames Estuary Project 2100, require and apply upper bounds of changes of sea levels and extreme water levels (Lowe et al., 2009). On the other hand, AR5 WG1 authors, conclude that the current literature does not allow providing such upper bounds (Church et al., 2013).

Finally, empirical evidence has accumulated that even when options are analyzed to be suitable, this does not necessarily lead to action on the ground due to a range of cognitive, institutional and other barriers involved that prevent implementation (Moser and Ekstrom 2010; Moser et al., 2012; Wong et
al., 2014). Prominent examples of such barriers in coastal adaptation are a lack of clear organisational responsibilities at the national and regional levels (Storbjörk, 2010), a lack of horizontal and vertical integration of policies relevant to coastal zone management (Brown et al., 2002) and the complexity and bureaucracy of government organizations (Stojanovic and Barker, 2008). In order to overcome these barriers, assessment thus must consider existing governance arrangements and their interplay at multiple levels of decision making as well as the context of existing issues, conflicting interests and complex inter-linkages between public and private decisions (Few et al., 2007; Urwin and Jordan, 2008; Hinkel et al., 2009; Geels, 2011).


WPC addresses each of the four challenges listed above. The work program is structured in three basic topics, which interact as described below. Work within each topic is expected to be addressed by several working groups as part of the SPP. A particular emphasis will be placed on comparative analysis of socio-economic impacts, adaptation strategies, associated risk management decisions
and governance arrangements for socio-economic host-spots of coastal vulnerability such as the rapidly developing coastal megacities of Asia.

Research projects within the SPP Research Area C (WP C):

In addition, research projects that fall within both the Research Areas B and C (WP B/C) are:


The work program is structured in three basic topics. Work within each topic is expected to be addressed by several working groups as part of the SPP.

Topic I

Integrated modeling of coastal socio-economic impacts and adaptation

> read more

Topic II

Coastal risk management and adaptation pathways

> read more

Topic III

Coastal adaptation governance

> read more