Symposia series: Cultures of coastal adaptation

First symposium on the cultures of coastal adaptation:

The first symposium on the cultures of coastal adaptation took place from 22-23 September 2021 online. You can find the detailed program here.

The symposium made a first step towards developing a novel, interdisciplinary, empirical social science perspective on the various cultures of coastal adaptation that is currently missing in discussions of the climate change adaptation community.

The first symposium brought together leading adaptation scholars from multiple social science disciplines and regions. The symposium featured case studies from Comoros, Indonesia, Germany, UK, Netherlands, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, USA, Brazil, Vietnam and the Maldives.

The CULTURES program for 2022 will be announced soon.


Sea-level rise requires adaptation at the coast. The current literature on coastal adaptation is driven by technical aspects of which strategies are best to follow or which measures are most efficient to implement. However, there is no objective answer to the question whether to protect, accommodate, advance or retreat? Ultimately, the answer depends on social norms and conventions that have developed differently in different contexts depending on different planning traditions, property-right regimes, past experiences with extreme events and corresponding societal responses. For example, western European countries have developed a welfare state approach focused on coastal protection finance. In contrast, the USA have developed a national flood insurance approach focused on loss finance. These different cultures of coastal adaptation have vast implications for the societal responses to sea-level rise. For instance, while retreating from the coast, instead of in-situ protection, is a common response to rising sea-levels in the USA, retreat remains a taboo in many western European contexts. However, these long-established cultures of coastal adaptation are now being challenged by sea-level rise. For example, as a consequence of rising sea-levels and the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme flood events, protection might become too expensive or socially unacceptable. Against this background, the CULTURES symposium addresses the following three questions:

  • What characterizes the diversity of coastal adaptation cultures in different regions around the world
  • What explains the diversity of coastal adaptation cultures in different regions around the world?
  • To what extent is sea-level rise influencing cultures of costal adaptation and which factors explain this institutional change?

Through collectively discussing research that addresses these questions, the symposium will contribute to broadening the academic discourse on coastal adaptation from focusing on the technical aspects of coastal adaptation to also considering the cultural dimensions. Building on discussions of the recent IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere, the workshop will explore different cultures of coastal adaptation in coastal hotspots around the world.

GCF project team