Review Reveals Gaps In Coastal Climate Adaptation Research

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Coasts are complex systems that provide precious goods and services to human society. 

Coastal communities worldwide face climate change effects such as sea level rise, marine heat waves, intense storms, and changing precipitation patterns.

The threats of climate change to coastal communities’ infrastructure, economy, and ecosystems require them to adapt to climate change.

A new study provides insight into 650 peer-reviewed empirical research studies on coastal climate adaptation from the past 20 years, and their analysis reveals significant gaps in its implementation, governance, geographic imbalance of knowledge, and economic context.

For example, most studies were conducted in high-income countries, despite global south countries – those with lower income, poor infrastructure, and denser populations are identified as highly vulnerable to climate change impacts.

“Based on the number of case studies, the analysis demonstrated a proportionally more significant number of articles reporting on the east coast of the USA, Australia, Europe, and Bangladesh on the Asian continent. The African and South American continents, the highly vulnerable low-lying island states, and the Arctic, sub-Arctic and Antarctic regions received comparably little attention.”

The paper presents a systematic review of the advances of adaptation science in coastal systems from across the globe. Various adaptations and strategies can help reduce coastal exposure and vulnerability to climate change. 

Through a systematic literature review, authors find a high growth in publications on climate change adaptation in coastal areas. Since 2000, there has been a gradual increase in relevant articles and, since 2005, an exponential rise in the scientific literature. The review also distilled six critical knowledge and research gaps that may be taken up in future research to support climate adaptation in coastal areas:

  • Uneven distribution of research among vulnerable regions (e.g., polar);
  • particular focus on knowledge development around the assessment phase of the adaptation policy cycle with limited contribution to the implementation phase;
  • adaptation science primarily works at a local scale, resulting in the overlooking of adaptation challenges at regional and broader scales;
  • lack of cross-sectoral view and integration;
  • limited framing of adaptation research within coastal governance and management arrangements (e.g., MSP, ICZM, MPAs) and
  • limited focus on economic and financial conditions.

These gaps present important avenues for coastal adaptation research that can inform coastal stakeholders and governments about their coastal adaptation challenges, opportunities, and trade-offs.


Cabana, D., Rölfer, L., Evadzi, P., & Celliers, L.. (2023). Enabling Climate Change Adaptation in Coastal Systems: A Systematic Literature Review. Earth’s Future11(8).

Cozannet, G. (2023 August 22). Gaps and Challenges in Coastal Adaptation Research. EOS. Retrieved from

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