WP C: Socio-economic Impacts and Risk Governance

WP C performs an integrated analysis of sea level change and human-environment interactions in the two study regions, by identifying sea level stressors, coastal impacts, adaption pathways and policies. This involves 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.

Furthermore, WP C will 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 stimulates the creation of knowledge basis for quantitative coastal zone management studies. The insights from WP C are also essential for directing and readjusting the activities in the other WPs to make their outcome more useful for coastal communities.

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. 2009Ranasinghe 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 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, since a wide range of adaptation measures such as ecosystem-based protection, accommodation options and retreat options are often ignored (Wong et al., 2014). Likewise, vulnerability indicators, although raising awareness, are less useful for supporting decision-making (Hinkel et al., 2009). Assessing impacts without considering adaptation is problematic and leads to implausible results, such as in coastal flood plains where growing flood risk would either lead to higher protection standards or divert new development to other locations, displacing 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 decisionsat broad regional scales (i.e., on the order of hundreds of kilometres of coastal length), improving the resilience of coastal societies. Hydrodynamic and morphodynamic approaches for local level planning cannot generally be applied to long terms adaptation decision making, because they 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, e.g. tolerable levels of risk, or lead and lifetime of the options involved, and sea level rise information (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, e.g. flood-proofing London during the 21st century 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 suggests that even when analysed options are suitable, implementation may be prevented due to a range of cognitive, institutional and other barriers (Moser and Ekstrom, 2010;Moser et al., 2012; Wong et al., 2014), such as lack of clear organisational responsibilities at national and regional levels (Storbjörk, 2010), 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 and context of 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. A particular emphasis is 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 theResearch 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

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Topic II

Coastal risk management and adaptation pathways

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Topic III

Coastal adaptation governance

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