Category:Regulations in coastal management

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The Mediterranean Protocol on Integrated Coastal Zone Management, signed one year ago, is an important legal step towards protection and sustainable development of the coastal zones in the region. Yet, we all know that implementation does not follow in an automatic way. It requires, within each one of the countries involved, good preparation at administrative, legislative, scientific and behavioral levels. The text that follows aims at contributing to facilitation of implementation by offering some thoughts for the next steps and encouraging substantial cooperation among scientists, practitioners and decision-makers.

Very few times in the past the signature of a Protocol or international Agreement in general has been accompanied by so many smiles as in the case of the Protocol on Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) in the Mediterranean, signed in Madrid on January 21st 2008 (see: ENG IN FINAL FORMAT.pdf ). This was an indication of satisfaction and relief. After considerable preparatory work and long negotiations, a good compromise has been reached encouraging at the same time ambitious actions in favour of the environment and realistic policies on the most demanded strip of land.

An important Protocol

Many of us have already stressed the importance of this Protocol, since:

 It is unique as a piece of legislation in this field at regional scale;

 It constitutes a major tool to meet the challenges of sustainable development in the Mediterranean and avoid saturation and irreversible degradation of the coastal environment. Thus, it becomes the main instrument for the implementation of the Barcelona Convention as amended in 1995 (when the field of application was extended to cover also sustainable development of coastal areas);

 It has taken into account related work carried out in the context of international organisations and in particular the European Community and the United Nations);

 It has been elaborated in cooperation with representatives of civil society and in particular scientific experts and NGOs;

 It includes, as a legal commitment, principles of great value for planning, such as the ecosystems approach (management beyond administrative boundaries), the non edificandi zone (with a flexibility in its identification when needed), the coordination and synergy among all interested partners and at all levels (national, regional, local) for both planning and implementation, the multidisciplinary approach, the flexibility of actions based on geomorphological and other local characteristics etc.

The Protocol as part of a Strategy

After the euphoria for the consensus reached, it is now time to think of how to pave the road for implementation. In the Mediterranean we do not start from scratch, of course – beyond our national experience, there are also tools and precious related experience that we have developed jointly in the form of a Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development (MSSD), numerous pilot projects (CAMPs and other), guidelines, good practices, impact studies etc. Yet, the next step is not obvious given the different features and conditions characterizing each Contracting Party (CP). Hence, there is a need to exchange views on technical and legal aspects of implementation while preparing the ratification of the Protocol. A first necessary action would be to identify in the MSSD those references related to or having an impact on the ICZM. We trust that PAP/RAC could easily and soon provide the CP with such a basic document.

To the question if there is a need to develop new national laws (reflecting national strategies) to cope with the commitments undertaken by signing the said Protocol, each CP will answer individually taking into account the degree of completeness and effectiveness of its current legislation. And there is a great variety in the Mediterranean, as there are different needs and means. Some Mediterranean countries have a long experience in the field (e.g., France with its Law on Coasts – Loi du Littoral – and the “Conservatoire du Littoral”, even if this model is not automatically applicable to all other countries), others (like Greece) are in the process of preparing new Spatial Plans (one of them referring specifically to Coastal Zones and the Islands and expected to be presented for public consultation very soon), some – being EU Member States – are bound by a great number of relevant EU Directives, others put more focus on research and management of often complicated cases, while some others lack the expertise and the means. In fact, I think that there is no CP able to claim having sufficient means given the scale of the exercise. In all cases, we should start by taking stock and making best use of the existing legislation, mechanisms and plans in order to better identify possible gaps and needs.

Thoughts on 7 key-issues

Since all CP are not equally familiar with the possible tools for Coastal Management, it would help considerably to advance collectively the implementation of the Protocol if experts from the different CP could elaborate and exchange views on a number of key issues, including the following:

1. Criteria for a typology of coastal zones and respective criteria for the definition of the non edificandi zone: To avoid watering down the concept of the non edificandi zone (where building is not allowed), while fully respecting the so much desired flexibility based on objective local characteristics, it would be most useful to elaborate – as a justification to decision-making – such typologies and respective criteria. Local features like altitude, population density, accessibility (in particular in the case of small islands) could be of great significance in such an approach.

2. Adaptation measures to expected climate change: Since most of the Mediterranean countries are not of the magnitude that could play a major role in reducing the Green House Emissions, and since there are alarming estimations of future increase of temperature and resulting sea-level rise (12-50 cm in the next 50 years in the Mediterranean), an early identification of appropriate adaptation measures would be necessary to protect the most vulnerable coasts in the region. Such adaptation measures could refer to: - setting out distances from the winter wave, lower acceptable altitude for building and appropriate land uses, - coping with erosion and desertification (not necessarily by using very big defense constructions harming the environment in a different way), - managing water demand to face shortages and depletion of water resources (to a great extent due to losses related to irrigation), - preventing and combatting forest fires, - avoiding losses of species and biotopes related to increasing temperature and salinity, - identifying alternative crops and modifying current poor farming practices, - ensuring energy efficiency, - exploring the territorial dimension of impacts on fisheries and tourism and applying mitigation measures, etc.

3. Coordination mechanisms: Though the Mediterranean countries will select to use the administrative scheme that suits each one of them better, making best use of the existing mechanisms, it is unavoidable to deal with a question of governance. Most of the Mediterranean countries, if not all of them, will need at a certain moment to assess which scheme would be more effective in their conditions and how current mentalities could change to the right direction, in a long- term perspective and in a rapidly globalizing world. Ensuring closer cooperation and complementarities as regards ICZM would certainly be a challenge for the MAP components too.

4. Consensus procedures: A complementary aspect of the question of governance is related to consensus needed if we really care about implementation. Consensus requires involvement of all stakeholders – as respected partners – in the decision-making process. This process – very delicate for most of the Mediterranean countries – is not limited to only implementation. Experience shows that involvement of stakeholders and civil society representatives in the early stages of planning is most beneficial as well and spares the process from unnecessary and often harmful delays and tension

5. Land policy: Since the coastal zones are actually the most valuable part of land, it is obvious that pressure on them from groups of different economic interests is very strong. The positive orientations, guidelines and commitments mentioned in the Protocol will have really poor chances to be implemented if national policies do not include appropriate land policy (“politique foncière”, in French) measures. In countries not having appropriate mechanisms in place, acquiring land – not to mention managing it afterwards until it is finally used for planning purposes – and avoiding speculation on prices can turn the best planning operations into a nightmare. Experience shows that planning can be postponed for very long if not cancelled completely, in cases that the compensation for land expropriation is not of a fair level. Halting urban sprawl is not an easy task, in particular in countries where the land ownership status is strongly protected and building outside planned urban areas is allowed and ruled by law. Exploring alternative land policies and assessing their impacts could be of precious assistance to decision-makers.

6. Enforcement Control Mechanisms: Putting forward rigid national legislation and restrictions without appropriate enforcement control mechanisms in place would only reduce the credibility of both policies and authorities. Putting in place appropriate and effective enforcement control mechanisms (yet to be identified on the basis of CP’s conditions) would pay back even more if accompanied by a parallel information and sensibilisation campaign addressing the multiple users of the coastal zones.

7. Indicators and mechanisms to Monitor Progress and Evaluate Policies and Impacts: The need for feed-back has been underlined on many occasions. A considerable number of international organisations have already elaborated useful sets of indicators to monitor progress and evaluate policies and impacts. We might need to select collectively (for reasons of comparability) the set that serves better our needs, making optimum use of experience within the EU including the European Environmental Agency (EEA), as well as UNEP and OECD, but also Blue Plan and PAP/RAC.

Concluding remarks

Developing, on the one hand, pilot or demonstration projects on selected areas to experiment implementation of different approaches for each one of the key issues in real terms and, on the other hand, estimating the cost of non-action as an argument for decision-makers could prove beneficial for us all.

The concept of Sustainable Development calls for harmony and balance among economy, society and environment. It requires collective reflection and action, involvement of different actors and a proactive, preventive approach. Which more appropriate field of application could we find than the complex case of coastal zones?

The ICZM Protocol offers to the Mediterranean countries the opportunity and chance to manage in a rational and sustainable way one of their most valuable resources, the coastal zones, which suffer from a multitude of considerable and often non-compatible pressures. It is a chance not to be missed, for our well-being and for that of the next generations, since the environment – and that of the coastal areas in particular – forms the basis for sustainable development in the Mediterranean region. It is, at the same time, a very good opportunity for scientists to fill in the gap among themselves and the decision-makers by focusing more on fields needing further applied research, dialogue and/or pilot work.


Dr A. Mourmouris is Environmental Engineer – Planner, Head of Dep., Physical Planning, at the Hellenic Ministry of the Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works. She negotiated the Med ICZM Protocol on behalf of Greece and signed the Final Act. Yet, her views in this article do not commit or jeopardize the official positions of the Ministry.

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