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The ocean is the subject of the Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC), but it also plays a critical role in mediating climate – and climate change. As a result, to understand how LOSC can legally support the UN Climate Regime – the overall goal of this book – one must first understand the roles that the ocean plays in climate change, particularly with respect to the Climate Regime’s two foci, climate change mitigation and climate change adaptation. As Chapter 2 described, anthropogenic climate change is the result of humans burning fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution, resulting in increased concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere that are accelerating the planet’s heat retention. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported in 2014 that the planet has been warming since at least 1850, and the last thirty years are likely the hottest thirty-year period in the Northern Hemisphere in a millennium or more.
Coastal areas are some of the first areas to require climate change adaptation, a result of sea-level rise, exacerbated coastal storms, changing coastal chemistry and biodiversity, and increasing human populations and infrastructure. Coastal adaptation should include a public health perspective, because climate change is simultaneously increasing the risks of coastal disasters, toxic contamination, loss of water supply, and disease. Given the multiple threats facing coastal areas, a public health response must arise from multiple sectors simultaneously, from building codes and land use planning to more traditional disaster and disease preparedness to more finely tuned application of environmental and natural resources laws.
This chapter examines climate change’s impacts on the oceans and coasts, then focuses on two types of coastal adaptation. Increasing numbers of increasingly severe coastal storms pose one set of disaster-type public health risks to coastal communities, and this chapter examines prudent disaster preparedness actions to reduce them. However, coasts are also subject to longer-term and often more subtle public health threats as a result of rising seas and warming temperatures, requiring overlapping but distinct public health responses to adapt to salinization and new disease threats.