Coastal towns and cities tackling threats from the sea

Syrasbourg, Plenary  Session – Hemicycle, 28 October 2010

Speech by Iñigo de la Serna Hernaiz, Spain (L, EPP/CD)

Ladies and Gentlemen,


Dear Colleagues,

Coastal zones perform important ecological, social and economic functions and play a vital role in the prosperity of many European countries. However, the increasing concentration of socio-economic activities and population density is contributing to increase the vulnerability of coastal areas threatened by global warming.

Changes in the climate will lead to sea-level rise, increases in coastal flooding and storm intensity or increases in severe weather conditions. In addition, considerable negative socio-economic impacts are to be expected in some coastal regions and cities.

As flooding and erosion events are likely to take place more frequently, there is an urgent need to design policies to preserve human lives, natural and socio-economic assets which are at risk due to the combined effect of increasing hazards and vulnerability.

Climate change impacts in coastal areas representing a direct risk to people’s well-being are a clear illustration of how a number of fundamental rights can be affected. As a result, the ethical and moral aspects to protecting individuals against potential threats, including the increasing risk in certain areas, should be kept in mind in the search for responses.

Local and regional authorities have a major role to play in reacting to the specific challenges facing coastal areas. The magnitude of the predicted changes requires better anticipation and the development of a new risk culture and new governance practices.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Local and regional authorities, and in particular those located on the coastline, should put in place short, medium and long term responses in order to improve the resilience of coastal towns and cities, evaluating the potential local impacts of climate change on urban coastal areas; adapting sectoral policies and regulating activities which limit in particular city expansion to sea fronts.

They should also work on reducing the vulnerability of the population and its assets by involving communities and promoting education and risk awareness especially for local and regional administration staff implementing policies and management plans to fight climate change.

We consider to be extremely relevant to exchange experiences, tools, best practices and awareness-raising measures through networks of
co-operation between coastal regions and local authorities.

Citizens need to be part of the decision-making process and we recommend that Member States sign and ratify urgently the Additionnal Protocol to the European Charter of Local Self-Governement on the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority.

Dear Colleagues,

The complexity of the problem we have to face and the search for strategic solutions require greater attention from policy makers and must, therefore, become a priority at every level of governance.

It is especially important to involve local and regional authorities from the very beginning in the devising of any prevention and adaptation strategy, and not to leave them alone to cope with the pressures that they face. Indeed, while some of these policies depend wholly on national authorities, they do require real involvement by local authorities so as to guarantee greater consistency in the activities of the various sectors and levels of governance.

Actions to promote resilience to sea level extremes and management of flooding disaster risk may constrain or enhance efforts to achieve longer term societal goals as human development, peace, prosperity and poverty reduction. 

Adaptation to future scenarios requires the mobilisation of a range of intellectual, institutional, political, and financial resources over several decades. Successful mainstreaming can only be achieved by expanding the engagement of the civil society and private sector stakeholders in the adaptation process.

As a consequence, Member states, which have not yet done so, should draw up a national climate change adaptation policy to ensure the safety of populations and property, and to include specific measures for coastal areas.

Member states should be requested to take, as a matter of extreme urgency, and with the assistance of local and regional authorities, priority measures to improve the resilience of coastal urban areas; to draw up integrated and more consistent strategies for coastline management and for adaptation at local and regional levels, giving greater recognition to the local and regional dimension, by  providing their institutional and financial support to local and regional authorities in their practical implementation of these strategies.

Besides, there is a need to take the necessary steps to estimate adaptation costs so that they can be taken into account in future financial decisions and in the partnership with the other levels of governance.


Dear Colleagues,

We, local and regional elected representatives have to review our policy making process. I mean integrating the concept of reasonable risk, the principle of responsibility, the moral and ethical values implied by the scale of the threats foreseen.

For all, you will agree that we must ensure the transparency of the decision-making process with the participation of all stakeholders, including the population and the private sector.

There are a number of specific issues and associated questions concerning climate change about which ethical reflections need to be addressed: Who is ethically responsible for the consequences of climate change? What ethical principles should be followed in allocating responsibility among people, organizations, and governments at all levels to prevent impacts from climate change?  How do these issues affect human rights?

Consequently, the draft texts presented today recommend inviting the European and Mediterranean Major Hazards Agreement to continue its work on the preparation of a draft Ethical Charter on Resilience to Disasters.

It also recommends to include in the Council of Europe’s priorities the study of the relations between human rights and climate change in Europe. We would also suggest holding a conference to consider this issue from different angles as human rights and legal affairs, environment and social cohesion.

Last but not least, the European Union is one of the leading organisations in the fight on climate change. Therefore, we recommend as we did in previous recommendations to take greater account of the local and regional dimension in its climate change adaptation policies, and to foster exchanges of knowledge and good practice.

Dear Colleagues, I am certain that these Resolution and Recommendation will contribute to the well-being of the European population, and represent a step forward for the sustainability of future generations.

Thank you