Research Handbook on Climate Change Adaptation Law

Research Handbook on Climate Change Adaptation Law

Research Handbooks in Environmental Law series

Edited by Jonathan Verschuuren

This timely Research Handbook discusses the challenges brought about by the need to adapt to a changing climate. It considers how adaptation is necessary to address impacts resulting from the warming of the Earth’s atmosphere which is already unavoidable due to past emissions.

Chapter 10: Climate change adaptation and marine and coastal law

Tim Stephens

Subjects: environment, climate change, environmental law, law - academic, environmental law


Human induced climate change is driving rapid biophysical changes throughout the oceans and seas that cover 71 per cent of the Earth’s surface, and which are the primary drivers of the global climate system. The oceans have been critically important in maintaining global climatic stability, absorbing around 40 per cent of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from human activities and around 90 per cent of the heat added to the Earth’s system by climate change. The most visible effect of climate change in the marine and coastal environment has been sea level rise, and the transformation of coastal geography poses a profound climate adapt- ation challenge. Even if atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases are stabilised, sea levels will continue to rise for millennia, making coastal adaptation an issue that will demand ongoing attention. Accompanying sea level rise are other climate change impacts upon coastal and marine areas. These include rapid melting of sea ice (most notably in the Arctic Ocean,4 where the extent of summer sea ice reached a record low in 2012), saltwater intrusion into freshwater aquifers (affecting water supplies), rising water temperatures (affecting the productivity and distribution of fisheries, causing algae blooms and dam- aging corals), storms and storm surges (which are exacerbating erosion) and ocean acidification (the changing chemistry of the oceans damaging many marine organisms). All of these impacts can be tempered to some extent by adaptive responses.

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