Coastal vulnerability in Central Africa: IOC-UNESCO proposes pathways for resilience in new report

While the impact of climate change and anthropogenic factors across the Central African coastal zone is not uniform, a new technical report by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) identifies common challenges and calls for a cooperative approach and unified framework for tackling coastal vulnerability in the region.

Based on the outcomes of the technical workshop organized on 5-7 November 2019 in Libreville (Gabon) with the support of the Gabonese Republic and Government Offices of Sweden, the IOC’s Technical report on the status of coastal vulnerability in central African countries provides an overview of the region’s adaptive capacity through an analytical, ecosystem-based and people-centered methodology and proposes six pathways for resilience to tackle coastal vulnerability in the seven countries studied*.

Taking stock of the status of coastal vulnerability in Central Africa

Because of the unique location of the coastal zone as the transitional zone between land and the marine environment, populations – who rely directly or indirectly on its resources and services for livelihood and stable economy – have consistently concentrated in this region.

The Central African coastal belt houses highly crucial economic sectors like fisheries, tourism, agriculture, energy and maritime transport that are threatened by erosion, flooding, pollution, sea level rise and urban development, among others. With the expected increase of coastal hazards and risks due to socio-economic stressors and climate variability, and if no resilience strategies are implemented, the region’s coastal communities will potentially suffer great impacts and costs.

In this spirit, for coastal ecosystems and people to be resilient to threats – whether natural or human-induced – the report argues that complex decision-making is required, one that not only takes into account the impact of climate change but also factors in future population expansion, industrialization, urbanization, technological advancement, consumption pattern, behavioral change, culture, values and tradition.

Various regional, supra-regional and international policy and legal instruments already recognize the need for an integrated and sustainable management of the African continent’s coastal zone, whose benefits also extend to landlocked states. As such, the report considers that challenges can only be faced sustainably if the broad range of national and sectoral policies and the implementation of existing legislations are brought under the same umbrella.

Pathways for resilience

To explore the ambitious actions and transformational systems needed to adapt to human and climate pressure, six strategic pathways at the intersection of society, environment and economy were identified to assist the seven countries of the region:

  1. Build power, foster expert networks, build capacity, increase community voice and promote information sharing
  2. Craft a comprehensive strategy that is capable of “walking/working” the talks for climate resilience
  3. Adapt the economy to the new climate reality
  4. Advance the climate resilience legal and policy agenda
  5. Strengthen regionalism and bioregional identity
  6. Align and expand scientific/technical infrastructure building in support of decision making

Applied to sustainable development, these “resilience pathways” aim to provide a hands-on guidance in favor of 1) broadened policy processes through participatory deliberation and negotiation, and 2) the creation of long-term mechanisms for delivering a climate resilient future through cross-border cooperation and a Central African regional approach to coastal resource management.

The report concludes that ecosystem-based management policy instruments such as Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) or Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) can contribute to the implementation of the recommended pathways, as they have the potential to coordinate a diverse range of stakeholders across sectors and levels of governance at local, national and regional scale.

The French version of the Technical report on the status of coastal vulnerability in central African countries is also available here.

The technical workshop in Libreville (Gabon) and technical report are contributions from Africa and by African experts to the IOC-UNESCO/European Commission Joint Roadmap to accelerate MSP processes worldwide and preparatory process of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030). They also support the implementation of targets within the Sustainable Development Goal 14 of the 2030 Agenda.

* Angola, Cameroon, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and São Tomé and Principe


Alejandro Iglesias Campos, IOC-UNESCO Programme Specialist (

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