Living with sea-level rise in North-West Europe: Science-policy challenges across scales

Bart van den Hurk, Alexander Bisaro, Marjolijn Haasnoot, Robert J. Nicholls, Katrin Rehdanz, Dana Stuparu

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Sea-level rise (SLR) confronts coastal societies and stakeholders with increasing hazards and coastal risks with large uncertainties associated to these changes. Adaptation to SLR requires societal and policy decision-making to consider these changing risks, which are in turn defined by socio-economic development objectives and the local societal context. Here, we review some of the key challenges facing governments, stakeholders and scientists in adapting to SLR, and key aspects of successful adaptation, by exploring different approaches to SLR and coastal adaptation planning in three western European countries, the Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom. Several common challenges of SLR adaptation emerge across the different settings, including the inherent uncertainty regarding future conditions, the significant social and socio-economic consequences, the consideration and distribution of (residual) risk over communities, and the long legacy of present-day decisions that affect future risk and management options supporting future generations. These challenges are addressed differently in the three countries, e.g. in the governance level at which adaptation is initiated, although common elements also emerge. One common emerging element is adaptive pathways planning, which entails dynamic decision-making that breaks uncertain decisions into manageable elements or steps over time, while keeping options for the future. Another common element is the development of effective local science-policy interfaces, as engagement of local decision-makers and citizens is essential to manage conflicting interests. Lastly, we find that social and communication sciences have great potential to support effective science-policy interfaces, e.g. though identifying societal tipping points. Yet, in decisions on SLR adaptation, insights from these fields are rarely used to date. We conclude that supporting science-policy interactions for adaptation decision-making at relevant (inter)national to local scales through tailored multi-disciplinary scientific assessments is an important way forward for SLR adaptation in Europe.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100403
JournalClimate Risk Management
Early online date25 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Climate adaptation
  • Coastal management
  • Sea Level Rise

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