Adapting to climate change workshops

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The second in the series of three CoastAdapt workshops will be held in West Gerinish Community Hall at 7.30pm next Wednesday.

A number of issues will be explored including practical examples of good practice in climate adaptation will be shown, but most importantly, people attending will have the opportunity of participating jointly with other northern peripheral regions in the development of policies and strategies with the objective of ‘mainstreaming’ them into local government.

The aim of the CoastAdapt project, which is part funded by the EU Northern Periphery Programme and led by the Comhairle, is to integrate climate change adaptation objectives, strategies and measures such that they become part of local government development polices, processes and budgets at all levels and stages.

What is meant by ‘adaptation’? Adaptation has been defined as making adjustments in natural and human systems in response to actual or expected climate influences or their effects. Adjustments are designed to moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities.

For decision-makers, e.g. politicians, planners or coastal managers, there are many problems associated with extent of vulnerable coastline, environmental and economic value, and the ability of local authorities in terms of jurisdiction. In the Western Isles, increasing sea level and changing coastal morphology by erosion are increasing the exposure of coastal communities to Atlantic storms.

The desirable adaptation strategy to rising sea levels as seen by individual residents or crofters living and working at the coast is relatively clear-cut: invest in beach replenishment or in hard defence structures. But, for financially hard pressed coastal local authorities with extensive vulnerable coasts within their area, a different set of values and governance come into play. Although all parties tend to appeal to principles of sustainability, affected residents may feel wrongly done by, while local authority priorities centre around fairness, cost-effectiveness and integrated long-term planning.

For whatever approach is taken, vulnerable coastal communities are becoming more aware of the need to make adjustments in how they exist in close proximity to the sea and changing coastlines. Examples could include an acceptance that new housing should not be located below certain levels above high tide; an acceptance that loss of land is in many cases inevitable; that cultivation of machairs should leave buffer zones behind dune systems and at the machair edge; and that hard sea defences are not necessarily good practice as their construction may lead to erosion being transferred further along the coast.