The Spanish coasts prepare for climate crisis

Is Spain going to adapt its beaches to the changing climate?

by Lorraine Williamson
Spanish coasts

Heavy rain and wind frequently cause issues along the Spanish coasts: eroding beaches and damage to boulevards and coastal areas. However, these are recurring problems, and millions are being invested to restore affected areas.

The Spanish Ministry of Ecological Transition has allocated €250 million for 72 projects in 22 Spanish provinces to adapt the coasts to global warming. But is it worth continually restoring these problem areas? With the changing climate, certain beaches and boulevards will repeatedly face damage.

Continue investing in restoration work?

A mayor from the Valencia region openly questioned in 2020 whether it made sense to keep spending taxpayer money on restoration work. Wouldn’t it be better to give part of the promenade back to the sea? This statement cost him dearly. Four years later, his party has been reduced to the smallest in the municipality.

The climate crisis manifests not only through rising temperatures but also in more extreme weather conditions. There are more frequent severe storms and floods. The sea level is also rising due to melting polar ice caps and increasingly warm seas.

Rising sea levels threaten Spanish Coasts

The rise in sea level is accelerating along the Spanish coasts. This is evident from a study last year led by the Spanish Institute of Oceanography. According to the authors, the sea level has risen by 1.6 mm per year since 1948. However, this increase has grown to 2.8 mm since 2019.

The combination of more extreme weather conditions and the inevitable rise in sea level poses a serious threat to the Spanish coastline. This forces the government to reconsider the current coastal infrastructure in many areas. There are two options: relocate or remove the current boulevards, or accept that they will be repeatedly destroyed by extreme weather.

Remove, relocate, demolish, or stabilise

Currently, the government is working on 72 projects. In 22 coastal provinces, the coastline is being adapted to mitigate the effects of climate change. Promenades are being removed or relocated, demolitions are taking place, and measures are being taken to stabilise the beaches by protecting dunes or building breakwaters. More than €248 million are involved in these projects, funded by European funds.

After damage from a severe storm in 2022, the municipality of San Javier in Murcia halved the promenade from six to three metres, sacrificing 390 square metres of beach. However, these decisions are often not welcomed or even met with threats. Nevertheless, the question remains how many millions should be spent on recurring storm damage.

Re-naturalisation to protect beaches

In some coastal areas, the infrastructure is being adapted preventively. This way, municipalities hope to be prepared for the expected harmful effects of climate change. Through “re-naturalisation projects,” beaches are naturally adapted to the expected rise in sea level. According to experts, the sea will have risen by 48 centimetres by 2050. This would mean that several beaches will completely disappear and multiple coastlines will retreat. Re-naturalisation is seen as a way to protect the beach from future changes, preventing the need for continuous rebuilding of coastal infrastructure over the coming decades.

The economic importance of beaches is significant

While it seems logical not to keep spending millions on restoration work, the importance of beaches is significant for many coastal towns. Many municipalities have large economic interests in maintaining the existing coastal infrastructure. It attracts tourists, which creates many jobs. However, the question is whether the current situation on the various costas is sustainable for the future. With the rising sea levels and changing weather conditions, a drastic choice seems inevitable for many places.

Also read: Barcelona beaches shrink by 20% due to storms

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