Law and littoral management

Law and littoral management. Generalities and reflections for further interdisciplinary research projects.

Dr. Cédric Leboeuf, Maritime and Oceanic Law Centre, Nantes University, France.

Interface spaces between land and sea, the coastlines are among the richest areas in the world. They are welcoming many kinds of human activity, sometimes conflicting, that generate a lot of jobs. Thus, coastlines are subjected to significant pressures, as shown by the concentration of populations in areas near the coast. Coastal areas are thus directly concerned by world-wide issues linked to sustainable development, for example exploitation of renewable ressources, fight against coastal erosion and pollutions etc… that are a major concern for both scientific research and public policies. Management of these hybrid spaces are complex and include the action of multiple actors, in every state (GUINEBERTEAU, TROUILLET, 2006).

For geography, the littoral or coastal zone is the line that separates the sea from the land or more generally, the area under the sole influence of the sea that is to say a wider area including the immediate hinterlands, coastal lands and shallow coastal areas. This topological conception shows the separation between land and sea, which is not fixed or stationary. Some old constructions are now present on the foreshore, showing a move of several meters in less than half a century. The shoreline is then dynamic, lively, and one should question the proactive nature and adaptability of the set up legal measures and frameworks (BEURIER, 2015). But before doing this, some preliminary comments are necessary on the very frameworks and especially on the legal definitions of the littoral.

Various legal definitions of the littoral zone and its management

Since coastal zones are under the exclusive jurisdiction of the coastal state, each state has elaborated its own rules to manage these particular areas. Legally speaking, there is no precise definition of coastal areas, even sometimes within these very national regulations. For instance, article 1 of the 1986 French Littoral Act (Loi Littoral), now embedded in art. L321-1 of the Environmental Code, states that the littoral is a « geographical entity » that requires a specific management, protection and development policy. The Italian Act No. 979 making provisions for the safeguard of the sea refers to the littoral without defining it. In the same way, the large majority of the national applicable rules are based on a land approach. Nevertheless all the definitions include coastal waters, marine waters and estuaries, and some portions of the land along the coast where human activities and natural processes both influence and are influenced by those in the water (BOAD, consulted in dec. 2015). The extent of these lands varies because its limits are determined not only by ecological and geological characteristics, but also by what is considered as manageable from a political and administrative perspective. So, each definition depends on the strategic interests at stake of the concerned actor(s) (state(s), organisation…), which is called the external legal policy of the states or organisation. Some general multilateral non-binding instruments adopted within an organisation define thus the coastal area, in a quite consensual way, as being for example «  the interface where the land meets the ocean, encompassing shoreline environments as well as adjacent coastal waters. Its components can include river deltas, coastal plains, wetlands, beaches and dunes, reefs, mangrove forests, lagoons, other coastal features » (World Bank, 1996).

This definition shows that the management of the development of human activities is necessarily linked to both maritime and land issues. In order to be efficient, the elaboration of littoral management frameworks can not be restricted only to the littoral zone, but should also include coastal and maritime activities in order to effectively protect and preserve the marine environment (art. 192 of the Montego Bay Convention on the Law of the Sea). The damages flowing from mismanagement of coastal development in a state are indeed not necessarily restricted to the territory under the jurisdiction of this very state. Inter-state cooperation is thus essential and the most relevant way to act efficiently. Some recent instruments demonstrate the necessity to harmonize the definition to achieve an integrated version of the coastal management (the so-called Integrated Coastal  Zone Management – ICZM). The issue was taken up by the European Union at the end of the 70’s by implementing the ICZM in Mediterranean through Coastal Area Management Programmes. Since then, notably according to the European Commission, ICZM is considered as being « a dynamic, continuous and iterative process designed to promote sustainable management of coastal zones. ICZM seeks, over the long-term, to balance the benefits from economic development and human uses of the Coastal Zone, the benefits from protecting, preserving, and restoring Coastal Zones, the benefits from minimizing loss of human life and property, and the benefits from public access to and enjoyment of the Coastal Zone, all within the limits set by natural dynamics and carrying capacity » (EC, 1999).

A good and recent example to comment is the 2008 Mediterranean ICZM Protocol, originally signed by 14 states and the European Commission, that entered into force in March 2011. According to its provisions, “coastal zone” means the geomorphologic area either side of the seashore in which the interaction between the marine and land parts occurs in the form of complex ecological and resource systems made up of biotic and abiotic components coexisting and interacting with human communities and relevant socio-economic activities (IDDRI, 2012). Like most of the provisions of international instruments, this provision is the result of a long and complex negotiation. This instrument contains then provisions that are a compromise, which is not always easy to read. In this case, the complexity is strengthened by two elements : the references to extra instruments and the fact that Parties of the Barcelona System i.e. the Mediterranean System, are also members of the European Union, which give rise to difficult questions. This is actually one of many examples of the transition from the elaboration of legal environmental norms to effective implementation of binding instruments, in a cooperative manner, which leads to the analysis of the proactive nature of the internationally elaborated legal norms and their relative applicability.

The proactive nature of the legal sets of rules, their adaptability to a changing socio-environmental context and relative applicability. Example of art. 8, ICZM Protocol.

Even though legal issues about the littoral management are far more numerous, notably as to the ICZM Protocol, please just have a look at a rather interesting example, that can be presented in 3 steps :

1. Mediterranean countries legislations generally provide for setback zones (i.e. non-building zone from from 50m up to 100m) that are not always equivalent to the littoral zones (from 100m up to 2km). As reported by a 2009 legal study stating the applicable rules in ten Mediterranean States, the presence of specific coastal legislation is not insuring a better performance of coastal protection. It indeed demonstrates that in practice, tolerance for infringements as to illegal constructions on the setback zones is high especially in France, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Tunisia and Turkey.

2. Article 8-2a of the Mediterranean ICZM Protocol states that the Parties « shall establish in coastal zones, as from the highest winter waterline, a zone where construction is not allowed. Taking into account, inter alia, the areas directly and negatively affected by climate change and natural risks, this zone may not be less than 100 meters in width […] Stricter national measures determining this width shall continue to apply ». Nevertheless, the following subparagraph allows States to adapt the aforementioned provisions « for projects of public interest » – without defining the public interest – or « in areas having particular geographical or other local constraints, especially related to population density or social needs, where individual housing, urbanisation or development are provided for by national legal instruments ».

3. The analysis of these elements allows us to observe the coexistence of the adaptability of, on the one hand,

  • the elaboration of binding international measures to environmental conditions and on the other hand,
  • the implementation of these measures to local and geographical context but also to general concepts such as the « public interest » whose interpretation is left in practice to the States.

Thus, even though article 31 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties states that conventions have to be applied in good faith, the aforementioned provision on the setback area leaves a significant margin of appreciation to the States as to its transposition in domestic law. As noticed by numerous legal researchers, this single issue will lead to further and complex works about the a hypothetic common vision of the Parties, whose elaboration should be directed by the Secretariat of the Barcelona Convention (IDDRI, 2012). Such an exercise is necessarily interdisciplinary and requires the insertion of legal issues within the further research projects that could be drawn up.

Methodological aspects. Integrating legal aspects of a interdisciplinary in a research project. Experience feedback.

In the example of article 8 of the ICZM Protocol as to setback zones, it is noteworthy that identification and calculation of the coastal setback zone require a comprehensive and integrated approach considering both technical and policy analyses. The conducted studies follow a multidisciplinary approach according general parameters as presented by the displayed table, which could be probably topped up. The identification and implementation of the coastal setback should be based on an integrated methodology that uses scientific knowledge of physical processes, information on ecological and landscape values, and, first of all, on the analysis of the policy requirements and the established legal system of the country.

Studies or research projects are dedicated to public « end-users ». About the setback zones, the decision makers should indeed understand the very broad sense of a legal provision, thanks to arguments that are not legal but economic, sociological, biological… ones :

Capture d’écran 2016-01-14 à 16.47.11

Source : EU SHAPE Project, 2007-2013

More generally, substantive aspects of the research projects to be conducted are thus highly linked to formal aspects. Of course, the results have to be properly disseminated. One should also recall that both end users and actors of the civil society have to be inserted within the construction and the execution of a research project.

Regarding more specifically legal sciences, there exists two methodological ways to tackle an interdisciplinary object within the framework of project. The first one, a rather classical one, is to build a whole Working Package on the legal aspects. Even though this approach presents some interest because it appears to be giving a prominent place to legal studies, this may lead to put aside the legal issues and the researchers in law, which is actually a multi- but not interdisciplinary way of working. The second one, probably the most difficult one, aims at inserting all or almost all the disciplines within Working Packages that are built up on general themes. Legal sciences can indeed have a role to play in each, accompanying in some cases the scientific research by introducing the legal applicable frameworks, OR assessing and proposing legal solutions directly linked to the results obtained by the non-legal researchers in some other cases. Within an interdisciplinary research project, the main challenge for the lawyers is thus to make possible the introduction of the results flowing from non-legal research within the hierarchy of norms.

To go further :

  • BILLÉ, Raphaël et ROCHETTE, Julien. The Mediterranean ICZM Protocol: Paper treaty or wind of change?. Ocean & Coastal Management, 2015, vol. 105, p. 84-91.
  • BRAUD, Xavier. La gestion intégrée des zones côtières et le droit de l’urbanisme littoral en France. VertigO-la revue électronique en sciences de l’environnement, 2013, no Hors-série 18.
  • CHRISTIE, Donna R. et HILDRETH, Richard G. Coastal and ocean management law in a nutshell. West Academic, 2007.
  • IDE, Mayssoun. Aménagement et protection des littoraux méditerranéens: Marseille (France) et Lattaquié (Syrie), étude comparée. 2013. Thèse de doctorat. Paris 8.
  • JUDA, Lawrence. International Law and Ocean Management. Routledge, 2013.
  • MIOSSEC, Alain. Encadrement juridique, aménagement du littoral, gestion du littoral: les géographes et le droit (Jurisprudence, coastal planning and management: geographers and law). Bulletin de l’Association de géographes français, 2004, vol. 81, no 3, p. 288-297.
  • RIMAUD, Marie-Noëlle et PIRIOU, Jérôme. La GIZC et le développement touristique: enjeux d’un principe organisateur pour la durabilité des stations littorales atlantiques. VertigO-la revue électronique en sciences de l’environnement, 2013, no Hors-série 18.
  • ROCHETTE, Julien et BILLE, Raphaël. ICZM protocols to regional seas conventions: what? why? how?. Marine Policy, 2012, vol. 36, no 5, p. 977-984.
  • WANG, Hanling. Ecosystem management and its application to large marine ecosystems: Science, law, and politics. Ocean Development & International Law, 2004, vol. 35, no 1, p. 41-74.
Crédit photo : Genheuh, Photo prise depuis la falaise de Leucate, avec au premier plan le Grau de la Franqui (étang de la Palme), Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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