The coastal territories of mainland France constitute a prime example of an at-risk territory, with their growing concentrations of people and economic activities located mostly on a coastal fringe that is subject to shoreline retreat and coastal flooding. The perspective of higher sea levels due to climate changes exacerbates the risk that these territories will be exposed to natural coastal hazards. Since the “invention” of the littoral zone in the mid 19th-century, the vulnerability of the economic stakes on this coastal fringe has been managed mainly by controlling the hazards; this control is coordinated by the national government, which initiated coastal defence practices. At the beginning of the 1980s, natural risk prevention policies favoured managing the consequences of natural disasters, with the creation of the CatNat insurance regime to indemnify natural disaster victims. By the middle of the 1990s, new natural risk management strategies had been invented to complete the control of natural hazards. As part of the emerging philosophy of Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM), the French government encouraged the development of natural risk prevention policies by establishing Natural Risk Prevention Plans (PPRn) in 1995. These PPRn were a new approach to shoreline management that favoured controlling development in coastal communities. As of 2008, PPRn had been approved in 270 coastal communities and required in 149. At the beginning of the 21st century, the French government set down the general orientations for managing natural coastal risks, but it was not the only stakeholder involved. Collective action emerged, bringing the national government, public institutions and the territorial and local authorities together to develop risk management policies. This collective action was facilitated by a form of decentralization of natural coastal risk management, involving regional or local implementation of the strategic orientations of shoreline management, respecting the general principles defined by the national government. These changes are part of the ICZM implementation process, which has been under way since 2005. The development of natural coastal risk prevention policies is reinforced by the soon-to-be-adopted bill concerning the Grenelle of the Environment. These policies are mainly financed by the Barnier Fund for major natural risk prevention, which is in turn funded by an obligatory contribution based on the CatNat insurance premiums. This type of financing raises the question of the relationship between risk prevention strategies and natural disaster management.
Source: UNEP MAP PAP RAC Mediterranean Coastal Alert.
Deboudt, P. (2010), “Towards coastal risk management in France”, Ocean & Coastal Management; Article in Press, Corrected Proof; Available Online 27 April 2010, under DOI: 10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2010.04.013.