Sea and society interact most strongly at the coast where communities both benefit from and are threatened by the marine environment. Coastal flooding was the second highest risk after pandemic flu on the UK government’s risk register in 2017. Over 1.8 million homes are at risk of coastal flooding and erosion in England alone. Extreme events already have very significant impacts at the coast, with the damage due to coastal flooding during the winter 2013/14 in excess of £500 million, and direct economic impacts exceeding £260 million per year on average. Coastal hazards will be increasing over the next century primarily driven by unavoidable sea level rise.
At the same time, the UK is committed to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. It is therefore essential to ensure that UK coasts are managed so that coastal protection is resilient to future climate and the net zero ambition is achieved. Protecting the coast by maintaining hard ‘grey’ defences in all locations currently planned is unlikely to be cost-effective. Sustainable coastal management and adaptation will therefore require a broader range of actions, and greater use of softer ‘green’ solutions that work with nature, are multifunctional, and can deliver additional benefits.
Examples already exist and include managed realignment, restoration of coastal habitats, and sand mega-nourishments. However, the uptake of green solutions remains patchy. According to the Committee on Climate Change, the uptake of managed realignment is five times too slow to meet the stated 2030 target. Reasons are complex and span the whole human-environment system. Nature-based solutions often lack support from public opinion and meet social resistance. Despite removing long-term commitment to hard defences, the economic justification for green approaches remains uncertain due to high upfront costs, difficulty in valuing the multiple co-benefits offered, and uncertainties inherent to future environmental and socio-economic projections. The frameworks used to support present day coastal management and policy making (e.g. Shoreline Management Plans) do not provide comprehensive and consistent approaches to resolve these issues. Consequences are that the effectiveness of these policy approaches is reduced. Delivering sustainable management of UK coasts will therefore require new frameworks that embrace the whole complex human-environment system and provide thorough scientific underpinning to determine how different value systems interact with decision making, how climate change will impact coastal ecosystem services, and how decision support tools can combine multiple uncertainties.
Co-Opt will deliver a new integrated and interdisciplinary system-based framework that will effectively support the required transition from hard ‘grey’ defences to softer ‘green’ solutions in coastal and shoreline management. This framework will combine for the first time a conceptual representation of the complex coastal socio-ecological system, quantitative valuation of coastal ecosystem services under a changing climate, and the characterisation of how social perceptions and values influence both previous elements. Our new framework will be demonstrated for four case studies in the UK in collaboration with national, regional, and local stakeholders.
This will provide a scalable and adaptive solution to support coastal management and policy development. Co-Opt has been co-designed with project partners essential to the implementation and delivery of coastal and shoreline management (e.g. Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales, NatureScot, coastal groups) and will address their specific needs including development of thorough cost-benefit analyses and recommendations for action plans when preferred policy changes. Co-Opt will further benefit the broad coastal science base by supporting more integrated and interdisciplinary characterisation of the complex coastal human-environment system.
The Co-Opt project brings together teams from the National Oceanography Centre, Cranfield University, the University of Liverpool and the University of St Andrews. It will include international project partners: the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and Deltares. The project has been co-designed through partnerships with the most relevant policy partners for coastal and shoreline management: Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales, NatureScot, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, coastal groups (specifically the North West & North Wales Coastal Group, NWNWCG), and coastal trusts (Fife Coast & Countryside Trust).