Policy instruments for integrated coastal zone management

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This article presents different policy tools for use in environmental policy more specific in coastal zone management (CZM). The Policy tools are structured from a macro level (societal), but are also seen from a system perspective. In this perspective society is understood as a set of social systems that relates to their environment through a set of codes, symbols and tools. The various types of instruments or measures belong to a social system cultural, legal or economic. The strategies’ starting point is that the political institutions and their actors– i.e. politicians, technocrats and other managers need be aware of possibilities and limitations to governing coastal zones’ complexity. Most of the policy strategies involve use of two or more of these instruments working together; in other words, they are complementary. The article also link the different instruments to institutional levels – showing on what level they are most common in use, whether it’s on the local, regional, national or international level.


In the SPICOSA project one important approach is based from the fact that coastal systems are under increasing human and environmental pressures. A consequence of this is the recognition that we need more new and innovative efforts to manage the coastal zones as integrated functional systems. One solution is to improve the way research, decision making and management can be linked together in the governance of coastal zones. One way to systematically do this is to use the SPICOSA’s System Approach Framework to model and predict inputs and outcomes of different kinds of policy instruments. On the other hand, in social science there are different theories and perspectives to analyze and understand society, social action and government. One of them is a system theory that focuses on major social systems in a macro perspective. Society is here to be seen as a social system including various functional systems (eg. the economic system, legal system, cultural system, and others)(Luhmann 1989)[1]. Society is linked to the surrounding ecological systems by individuals and social systems. We deal with nature and nature given life (ecology) through cultural, economical and other activities. This model tries to link ecosystems and social systems. Each government or management at any level of society has to rely on these systems to govern or manage a limited field of policy action. The economic system, the legal system and the social or cultural system can therefore bee seen as set of instruments in management of a policy field or area- here the coastal ecosystem. In the integration of science and policy in coastal zone assessment this perspective can be useful. The goal is to help any manager to understand what type of legislation tool or instrument is adequate to a sustainable management of the coastal zone.

Integrated coastal zone management is, from a manager’s point of view, a set of tools in solving challenges and problems in the coastal zone:

We can identify a handful of different types of management or policy tools:

  • deliberative processes,
  • legislative controls,
  • planning,
  • economic instruments (taxes and subsidies),
  • informative measures and at last,
  • technology to help or solve social or environmental problems.

These tools can be seen as alternatives or complementary strategies. Important to this is the integrated perspective; every tool must be seen at a part in a holistic approach.

The SPICOSA project’s System Approach Framework (SAF) deals with the identification of one or more environmental problems in the coastal zone, then make a model for dealing with this problem and predict the outcome. The SAF is about designing of a conceptual model taking account of social and economic factors as well as the ecosystem. This article is a broad presentation of the policy instruments known available applicable as alternative strategy both in the SAF context and in addition to social system approach.

Policy instruments in coastal zone management

Environmental policy instruments include official restrictions and positive incentives designed to control activities that may be harmful to the environment or promote the opposite. We can divide between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ policy instrument.

In environmental policy soft instruments will implement typical voluntary, non-binding recommendations and guidelines. Soft policy is relatively new in environmental policy and opens for less authoritative than traditional hard policy instruments (Hertin et al., 2004[2]). Hard policy instruments will on the opposite of this be hierarchical regulations, forcing legislations and taxes. These policies can be seen as the ‘command and control’ approach[2]. Environmental policy went through radical changes in the 1980s, when there was a shift away from dealing with narrower problem areas towards broader and more integrated assessments of environmental issues. Environmental policies have subsequently included more preventive measures and controls imposed on potentially harmful activities, rather than corrective measures to repair existing damage. At the same time we have seen a shift to more soft policies and more decentralised approaches[3][2]. New environmental policy also includes market-based instruments, such as eco-labels, eco-taxes and tradable permits[3].

In the framework of system approach we have classified policy instruments in coastal zone management into social and informative measures, legislative controls, economic instruments, and technology based initiatives. This kind of classification derives from the idea that policy can influence the system response to improve sustainability in the coastal zones. This is an approach that can be effective to diagnose a problem and set in relevant tool to deal with these problems, weather they are of a natural or a societal kind. It can also be helpful to foresee how different kind of tools can meet different kinds of challenges.

Social and informative measures

Deliberative processes, participation and governance The challenge in an integrated coastal zone management (ICZM) is that it does not only involve the area where the landlife meets the sealife, but it also involves humans and human activities. In most ICZM approaches is the idea that the people affected, the stakeholders, should be involved in the resolution of conflicts through a structured, organized process. Exclusion of population groups from decisions, and especially those who face their consequences, leads to conflicts further down the implementation process. In the System approach framework, one have tried to implement the social factor in an integrated CZM. The main focus in this article is however the alternative policy instruments - and the system approach framework (SAF) can in this part be relevant as a supplement for the integration of science in policy. Therefore participation and deliberation is part of the policy-making - not a (direct) part of the SAF.

A structured deliberative process can ease these tensions by striving for consensual decisions at an early stage. Deliberation, in that case, is the process by which views are tested and arguments are put forward and countered in discussion and debate. Deliberation processes, participation and governance have therefore both instrumental and a procedural grounding. In short terms the idea is that participation increases the effectiveness and implementation of a political decision. This is very important also in a system approach, but it can be a huge challenge to estimate causality. Effects of deliberation can be the opposite of what was expected. Deliberative processes are “thinking processes” or communication for raising and collectively considering issues. It refers to different kinds of decision-making. It involves the gathering of information and knowledge from a variety of sources, including consultation with actor and stakeholder inside and outside an organisation or institution.

In the deliberative phase, the myriad of data comes together and is synthesized in a comprehensive plan, or systems model capable of generating various scenarios in an output stag. In the deliberative process, many types of data and knowledge are integrated throughout the process. The idea is to map problems, competing interests and value preferences, not only expert knowledge, but also lay knowledge (See i.e. Vanderlinden 2009).

In coastal zone policy and environmental policy deliberation is closely related to the idea of sustainable development. This is grounded in both the idea that sustainability also involves people that live of and close to resources and that traditional and local knowledge is necessary to find sustainable policy. Since the publication of the Brundtland Report in 1987, the notion of sustainable development has come to guide the pursuit of both public and private environmental reforms and to facilitate communication among different actors and stakeholders. Deliberation can involve various combinations of scientific and technical specialists, public officials, and interested and affected parties. Deliberative processes recognize that environmental plans cannot be pursued without regard to money and political power struggles, including citizens demanding their right to a good environment. The idea of deliberation is ancient, but has among others been enhanced and related to [communicative rationality by sociologists like Jürgen Habermas[4].Although Habermas makes a strong point that consensus is the ultimate end of deliberation and discourse, one can also argue that compromises is an acceptable goal.

The notion of “governance” refers to consistent management, cohesive policies, processes and decision-rights for a given area of responsibility (Wikipedia: Governance) According to the United Nations Development Program’s, “governance” has been defined as “The rules of the political system to solve conflicts between actors and adopt decision (legality)”. It has also been used to describe the “proper functioning of institutions and their acceptance by the public” (legitimacy). And it has been used to invoke the efficacy of government and the achievement of consensus by democratic means (participation) UNPD[2]. In all definitions Governance involves participation.

Informative measures

Informative measures are important in problem definitions and policymaking. It is often difficult or even impossible to trace the original causes of environmental problems. It is therefore vital that the authorities also use “soft” policy instruments to improve our understanding and awareness of these issues. To get public support in a particular policy issue, informative measures is seen as softer that for example legislation which are more forcing. Economic and legal measures in order to be effective must often need public support and legitimacy. Consciousness and awareness of environmental issues are based on new information. This can be done through attitude campaign, education and special training. Other informative measures such as environmental labelling schemes attempt to influence consumption patterns by encouraging consumers to use products and services that are less harmful to the environment. In a system approach framework informative measure can be both as a part of the design and result, rather than a component in the system approach. Attitude campaigns have been used in various environmental campaign, and can be useful when lack of information and knowledge is the main problem. Informative measures can be important also as a tool when new technology or new laws are implemented. The need of learning for all implicated parties in a coastal zone area is often underestimated. When a new environmental problem is defined, the need of learning for good solutions is often two-ways: top-down and bottom-up.

Information is the softest and the “easiest” instrument perhaps of all. To inform about institutional changes (like new laws and regulations) or to inform in order to change awareness on an environmental issue or like this article is possible for any institutional level. However, strategies for information ought to be carefully planned so its message reaches out.

Planning instruments

The role of the planning arrangement is to settle development requirements with the aim to protect conserve or improve a field or a policy area. In coastal zone management the policy area can be the sites, environmental quality, habitats and recreational opportunities of the coast. This can be achieved through development and space plans, and planning decision processes. This again is an instrument for implementing policies for the conservation and improvement of the coastal environment and resources. Planning as a policy instrument used to appear intensively in natural, economic and social policy. For the welfare states in Europe planning has been a central and irreplaceable policy instrument. Gradually, environmental dimensions have been taken into account, especially through the appearance of environmental problems and the idea of sustainable development. Planning can promote environmental sustainability examining the concept of development which meets environmental, social and economic needs. It can be used to regard both present and future generations’ needs. Planning as a policy instrument also encourages spatial integration of development perspectives and indicates how social cohesion, regional innovation and sustainable development can interplay. Spatial planning is an important policy instrument in coastal zones. Coastal zone planning can also be seen as a process of generating guidelines for improving activities and resource utilization in coastal areas. Planning is in this view implementing most of the other policy instruments mentioned in this article. So to realize the part of such plans needs often both, economic legal and cultural measures. The system approach framework (SAF) can be seen as a planning instrument in itself.

Economic instruments

Whereas legislative policies mainly consist of enforcements and restrictions, economic instruments are designed to provide more positive or negative financial incentives to promote or prevent more forms of production and consumption. Economic instruments include selective taxes and fees, as well as various kinds of subsidies, grants and tax exemptions, for both companies and individual citizens. The key feature of all these measures is that the authorities are involved at one end of the financial transaction. Through another type of economic instrument, the authorities can also set favourable frameworks for financial transactions within the private sector. Such instruments include e.g. the deposits paid on returnable drinks containers, and emissions trading schemes. The EU has developed a systemized overview of the use economics in environment policy on the European level.

Taxes are unreciprocated in the sense that benefits provided by government to taxpayers are not normally in proportion to their payments. The term “taxes” sometimes includes both taxes and, fees and charges (OECD 2008)[3]. EU has over time developed a series of environmentally related taxes. Taxes have been an effective policy instrument in the so called welfare state the last 50 year. The major principle of taxes is to distribute and redistribute goods and “bads”. In environmental policy in general and coastal zone management especially, the rule is to implement the ‘polluter-pays’ principle. Environmentally related taxes can be defined as any compulsory payment to general government.

Subsidies are positive economic instruments to support political wanted production or consumption. In some cases, subsidy may refer to favoring one type of production or consumption over another, effectively reducing the competitiveness or retarding the development of potential substitutes. For instance, it has been argued that one can subsidy the use of alternative energy sources to increase their commercial development, and at the same time reducing use of non-renewable resource. The government can create incentives for sustainable behaviour by providing funds to start up sustainable projects create or update infrastructure to make industries more sustainable, etc. For example, the government can give a subsidy to farmers so that they can improve their irrigation systems to use less water. Subsidies can also be given to ecological friendly tourist arrangers etc. Consumption related subsidies can be given indirectly to household when purchase of environmental friendly technology or goods. Removal of established subsidies is also a policy instrument.

Legal and legislative measures

The legal system

Rules, laws and other measures that belong to the legal system are important regulative tools in coastal zone management and in society in general. This type of political tool differs from other tools because it implies norms with positive and negative sanctions. The law gives a system of rules, usually enforced through a set of institutions. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a primary social mediator of relations between people and between the people and the rulers. Each country (see State law) has often its own legal system but and underlines the state sovereignty. In the European Union the Court of Justice takes an approach mixing civil law (based on the treaties) with an attachment to the importance of case law.

Legislations and regulations

There are several generally accepted principles and characteristics of the implementation of ICZM . One of these is legal support, which provides application of law as the regulative mechanism of coastal management. Rules and legal regulations can imply different measures from the sizes of fisher boats to water directives. It is meant to regulate activity that affects the sustainability of a coastal zone. The legislative measures are related to bans, commands, rights and regulations. The use of sanctions when breaking rules, make them effective, but also politically controversial. Harmful environmental impacts are largely controlled through the compulsory environmental permits that cover all kinds of potentially risk activities. Other environmental legislations have been enacted to prohibit the use of certain harmful substances, to set limits on emissions, to enforce certain technical standards, to make producers responsible for their products as waste, to limit certain activities in special areas such as nature reserves or car-free areas in cities, and to control land/coast use planning. Access control measures like licenses for fisheries or other activities in the coastal area are also a type of legal instruments used in CZM. So are protection areas; such as national parks, conservation programs etc. These kinds of legal instruments can be part of a constructed Simulation Model for delivery of the specified outputs in SAF. Legislations are perhaps the most foresighted instrument in a System Approach Framework because it’s the hard type of policy instrument (SAF). The effect of rules and regulations are based on its how legitimate it is. Legitimacy is given by public support; and in lack of legitimacy one can use force. There are of course democratic arguments against using force. Laws and legislations are in sum a highly predictable instrument, but at the same time difficult to pass formally.

Technology as a policy tool

Over the course of human history, technological innovation has reshaped societies and changed our relationship to the natural world. An examination of past innovation demonstrates the enormous transformative potential of technology. We live in an era of accelerated technological change. Advances in biotechnology and information technology (and promised advances in cognitive science and nanotechnology) touch many aspects of our lives - from the way food is produced and processed, to the treatment of human illness, to how we communicate with each other. Technology is in this article seen as a policy tool. It is a way to get and give information and solve social and environmental challenges. Environmental Technologies, i.e. on cleaner and resource efficient technologies which can decrease material inputs, can contribute to reduce energy consumption and emissions, recover valuable by-products, minimise waste disposal problems or some combination of these. In aquaculture and agriculture, environmental technology are used to secure clean, energy saving and protective production. For waste - recycling & processing, waste is not considered as a pollutant but as a resource to be managed and processed for further re-use. Water - Sustainable use focuses on technologies and programmes aimed at improving the efficiency of water use and re-use, i.e. innovation in energy-efficiency technology. Environmental technologies span a very wide range of applications – from an innovative control system that optimises a building’s heating, to a new product for cleaning up industrial effluent. One conserves energy and reduces CO2 emissions, while the other prevents harmful pollution from entering the ecosystem. Both help to make economic and social development sustainability. Flood protection, piers, moles and jetties are important technical tools in CZM. Construction a jetty can retain the drifting sediment in rivers, while piers and moles often are breakwater constructions. A main point here is that technology is a tool to bring forth improvement of action. Improvement of action is for example to make people sort garbage and recycle or use transportation that are cleaner than the alternative. In this way technology is a help for both politicians and users to make it easier to change behavour in a positive way. A greater understanding of complex interactions between nutrients, bacteria and cultured organisms, together with advances in technology and hydrodynamics applied to pond and tank design, have enabled the development of closed systems. These have the advantage of isolating the aquaculture systems from natural aquatic systems, thus minimizing the risk of disease or genetic impacts on the external systems.

The main authors of this article are Skorstad, Berit, Giordano,Laura and Sandberg, Audun
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

External link

System Approach Framework (SAF)


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  4. Habermas Jürgen (1984): The Theory of Communicative Action Boston: Beacon Press