Coastal policies in Portugal: adaptation and maladaptation to climate change impacts

16:15 Tuesday 28 May


Room S2


Luísa Schmidt (Portugal) 1; Carla Gomes (Portugal) 1

1 - Instituto de Ciências Sociais, Universidade de Lisboa

Coastal zones have emerged as one of the biggest concerns for policy-makers, as they combine an increasing population density with a worsening vulnerability, due to sea level rise, climatic events and coastal erosion. Over the last decade, climate change scenarios have added a sense of urgency to coastal management, and the need for adaptation became widespread in the global policy agenda. As many different social groups, economic activities and interests coalesce in the coastal zones, these have also proved a testing ground for a more inclusive and adaptive governance.

This presentation analyses the evolution of coastal management policies in Portugal, which coastline is among the most vulnerable in Europe. Drawing upon a historical overview of policy instruments, we analyse how the emergence of adaptation in the policy agenda is reflected on the most recent coastal policies.

After the 1960s, the Portuguese population started to concentrate on the coastline, in parallel with the development of mass tourism, most notably in the Algarve. An overwhelmed coast brought the need for reinforced protection, first with hard infrastructures, and after the 1990s with resort to beach nourishments. Adaptation solutions such as managed retreat have been mostly rejected by coastal populations and property owners, who demand that the State keeps spending in coastal protection to hold the line – despite an increasing dependency on EU funds.

However, there have been signs of change. An unusual succession of storms, in the winter of 2013/2014, prompted the Portuguese Government to nominate an independent Working Group, in order to recommend new measures for the coastal areas. In 2015, the Government approved a revised National Adaptation Strategy for Climate Change Adaptation (ENAAC 2020), followed by a new Action Plan for the Coastline (Litoral XXI) in 2017. A second generation of coastal management plans, which include tougher measures to respond to climate scenarios, is already raising strong controversy with local mayors.

The urgency of climate adaptation opened opportunities for innovation in the Portuguese coastal policies. However, there is still a long way to go and obstacles to overcome. In this presentation, we will offer an overview of the impacts of climate change on the Portuguese coast, as well as of the public policies that have sought to respond to these impacts. We will reflect on the more adequate modes of governance to manage coastal risks, encompassing the role of institutions and citizens, as well as concerns for social justice.