Evaluating local Social CApital effects on poLicy Adaptation to climaTe change in coastal zonEs

Research fellow: Dr Nikoleta Jones, Scientist in Charge: Dr Julian Clark

Coastal areaESCALATE was a research project funded by the European Commission (Marie Curie Actions, Intra-European Fellowship). The project started in September 2011 and was completed in July 2013. The Principal Investigator was Dr Julian Clark and the post-doctoral fellow was Dr Nikoleta Jones.

The project’s aim was to explore public perceptions of coastal management scenarios seeking to mitigate climate change impacts, through the lens of social capital theory. Quantitative (distribution of structured questionnaires) and qualitative (personal semi-structured interviews) social research methods were used in order to investigate these issues. Two case studies were selected in the UK for this purpose: Sheringham to Great Yarmouth in Norfolk; and Folkestone to Rye in East Sussex and Kent. Case study selection was based on the following criteria: a. severity of projected climate change impact in the coastal zone; b. presence of areas of high biodiversity value; c. significant projected social impacts as a result of climate change; and d. development of local social movements focused on coastal management and the proposed Shoreline Management Plans (SMP).

Results highlighted major challenges now facing local communities and policy-makers in rapidly eroding coastal areas of England. The study confirmed that certain social capital parameters –including trust and social cohesion within coastal communities – largely determine local perceptions of key coastal management issues. An important finding was the pivotal role of local networks in enabling the flow of information from coastal management organizations to local communities and vice versa, and in legitimizing this information to respondents. Well-established local networks are needed if long-term strategic policies for the coast are to incorporate local opinion and knowledge, and hence garner community support. Established networks also ensure information dissemination is carried out reliably and expeditiously. A second finding with particular policy relevance was that locally-based coastal management organizations were regarded uniformly by survey respondents as more trustworthy and more likely to take account of local community opinion than centralised bodies, which were often perceived as remote and distant. These findings have particular relevance for the implementation of the current suite of European environmental policies, including the Water Framework and Floods Directives, and, importantly, for the formulation of the EU Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning and Integrated Coastal Management. To ensure these measures attain optimum effectiveness, the study findings strongly support implementing social capital surveys of communities affected by these measures prior to policy implementation so that policy is appropriately tailored to local community needs and, specifically, to levels of trust, neighbourliness, and social cohesion in these communities. As important, these surveys should be used to design public engagement mechanisms to be included in these measures from the outset, so securing genuine involvement of local communities in decision-making and decision-taking on environmental policies.

We would like to thank all research participants, local stakeholders and governmental actors who provided us with their insights, opinions and data, so ensuring the successful implementation of the project.

You can access summaries of the following headline findings: