The effectiveness of setback zones for adapting to sea-level rise in Croatia


The Mediterranean coastal zone is particularly vulnerable to climate-induced sea-level rise due to rapid coastal development, leading to increased flood exposure in coastal areas. In Croatia, the share of developed coastline is still lower than in other Mediterranean countries, but development has accelerated since the 1960s. Available assessments of future coastal flood risk take into account adaptation by hard structural protection measures but do not consider other options, such as retreat from exposed areas or restricting future development. In this study, we provide the first assessment of the effects of setback zones on future coastal flood impacts on national scale. We extend the flood impact and adaptation module of the DIVA modelling framework with models of restricted future development and slow retreat (managed realignment) in the form of setback zones. We apply this model to a downscaled database of coastal segments of the coastline of Croatia. We find that setback zones are an effective and efficient measure for coastal adaptation. Construction restriction and managed realignment reduce the future cost of coastal flooding significantly, especially in combination with protection. If protection and construction restriction by setback zones are combined, the future cost of coastal flooding can be reduced by up to 39%. Combining protection and managed realignment by setback zones can reduce the future cost of coastal flooding by up to 93%.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


  1. 1.

    Table S4 and Figure S6 in the supplementary material show the relation between setback zone, elevation and extreme water level return period.

  2. 2.

    Figure S8 shows the projected assets in the setback zone in Croatia over the twenty-first century.

  3. 3.

    Additional figures can be found in the supplementary material: S10, RCP 4.5 over time; S09, both RCP over time including socio-economic uncertainty; and S11, accumulated total cost over twenty-first century.

  4. 4.

    For detailed numbers, see Tables S5 and S6 in the supplementary material.

  5. 5.

    Detailed results can be found in the supplementary material: Figure S12, sea flood cost over time (both RCPs); Figure S13, local distribution of sea flood cost; and Table S7.

  6. 6.

    Figure S14 in the supplementary material provides the projected annual protection cost over twenty-first century for both RCPs.

  7. 7.

    Figure S15 in the supplementary material shows the projected coastal asset depreciation over twenty-first century for both RCPs and the four relevant setback and protection scenarios.

  8. 8.

    The difference can be seen in Figure S8 in the supplementary material which shows the projected value of all assets in the setback zone over time if it is assumed that setback zones are used for managed realignment.

  9. 9.

    Additional figures and tables can be found in the supplementary material: Table S8 shows the sensitivity of protection and setback length and total cost of sea-level rise to different discount and depreciation rates with fixed benefit-cost ratio threshold for protection. Table S9 shows the results if benefit-cost ratio threshold for protection is varied and discount and depreciation rate is fixed. Figure S16 and S17 show the total cost of sea-level rise and its components under the RCP8.5 sea-level rise and the SSP2 for different discount and depreciation rates respectively different benefit-cost ratio thresholds for protection.


  1. Baric A, Grbec B, Bogner D (2008) Potential implications of sea-level rise for Croatia. J Coast Res 204:299–305.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Bisaro A, Hinkel J (2016) Governance of social dilemmas in climate change adaptation. Nat Clim Chang 6:354–359.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Cambers G (1998) Planning for coastline change: coastal development setback guidelines in Antigua and Barbuda. UNESCO, Paris

    Google Scholar 

  4. CIESIN, IFPRI, the World Bank, CIAT (2011) Global rural-urban mapping project, version 1 (GRUMPv1): population density grid. Palisades, New York

    Google Scholar 

  5. Croatian institute for spatial planning (2013) State of the physical environment report 2008–2012. Ministry of construction and physical planning of Croatia, Zagreb

  6. Croatian ministry of environmental protection, physical planning and construction (2010) Fifth National Communication of the Republic of Croatia under the United Nation Framework Convention on the Climate Change. Accessed 14 Nov 2019

  7. Croatian ministry of environmental protection, physical planning and construction (2014) Narodne Novine 79/2014. Regulation on methods of real-estate valuation assessment

  8. Croatian ministry of finance (2004) Income Tax Law (NN 177/04)

  9. Croatian ministry of finance (2005) Income Tax Regulation (NN 95/05)

  10. Defra (2011) Flood and coastal resilience partnership funding. Accessed 14 Nov 2019

  11. Defra (2012) Coastal pathfinder evaluation: an assessment of the five largest pathfinder projects. Accessed 14 Nov 2019

  12. Duplančić Leder T, Ujević T, Čala M (2004) Coastline lengths and areas of islands in the Croatian part of the Adriatic Sea determined from the topographic maps at the scale of 1 : 25 000. Geoadria 9:5–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. European Commission (2009) 2009/89/EC: Council Decision of 4 December 2008 on the signing, on behalf of the European Community, of the Protocol on Integrated Coastal Zone Management in the Mediterranean to the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean. Accessed 14 Nov 2019

  14. Giardino A, Nederhoff K, Vousdoukas M (2018) Coastal hazard risk assessment for small islands: assessing the impact of climate change and disaster reduction measures on Ebeye (Marshall Islands). Reg Environ Chang 18:2237–2248.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Haasnoot M, Kwakkel JH, Walker WE, ter Maat J (2013) Dynamic adaptive policy pathways: a method for crafting robust decisions for a deeply uncertain world. Glob. Environ. Change 23:485–498.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Hinkel J, Klein RJT (2009) Integrating knowledge to assess coastal vulnerability to sea-level rise: the development of the DIVA tool. Glob. Environ. Change 19:384–395.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Hinkel J, Lincke D, Vafeidis AT, Perrette M, Nicholls RJ, Tol RSJ, Marzeion B, Fettweis X, Ionescu C, Levermann A (2014) Coastal flood damage and adaptation costs under 21st century sea-level rise. Proc Natl Acad Sci 111:3292–3297.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Hinkel J, Lincke D, Wolff C, Vafeidis AT (2015) Assessment of cost of sea-level rise in the Republic of Croatia including cost and benefits of adaptation. (Technical Report). PAP/RAC, Split. Accessed 14 Nov 2019

  19. Hinkel J, Aerts JCJH, Brown S, Jiménez JA, Lincke D, Nicholls RJ, Scussolini P, Sanchez-Arcilla A, Vafeidis AT, Addo KA (2018) The ability of societies to adapt to twenty-first-century sea-level rise. Nat Clim Chang 8:570–578.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Hino M, Field CB, Mach KJ (2017) Managed retreat as a response to natural hazard risk. Nat Clim Chang 7:364–370.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Hoozemans FMJ, Marchand M, Pennekamp HA (1993) Sea level rise: a global vulnerability assessment: vulnerability assessments for population and coastal wetlands and Rice production on a global scale, revised. ed. Delft Hydraulics and Rijkswaterstaat, Delft, The Hague

  22. IIASA (2012) Shared socioeconomic pathways (SSP) database. International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. Accessed 14 Nov 2019

  23. Jonkman SN, Hillen MM, Nicholls RJ, Kanning W, van Ledden M (2013) Costs of adapting coastal defences to sea-level rise - new estimates and their implications. J Coast Res 29:1212–1226.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Kind JM (2014) Economically efficient flood protection standards for the Netherlands. J Flood Risk Manag 7:103–117.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Kopp RE, Horton RM, Little CM, Mitrovica JX, Oppenheimer M, Rasmussen DJ, Strauss BH, Tebaldi C (2014) Probabilistic 21st and 22nd century sea-level projections at a global network of tide-gauge sites. Earths Future 2:383–406.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Lincke D, Hinkel J (2018) Economically robust protection against 21st century sea-level rise. Glob Environ Change 51:67–73.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Marra J, Komar P, McDougal WG, Ruggiero P (1997) The rational analysis of setback distances: applications to the Oregon coast. Shore Beach 67:41–49

    Google Scholar 

  28. Menendez M, Woodworth PL (2010) Changes in extreme high water levels based on a quasi-global tide-gauge dataset. J Geophys Res 115:2156–2202.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Mercier D, Chadenas C (2012) The storm Xynthia and the cartography of the “black zones” on the French coast: a critical analysis from the example of the municipality of La Faute-sur-Mer, Vendée department. Norois 222:45–60.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Messner F, Penning-Rowsell E, Green C, Meyer V, Tunstall S, van der Veen A (2007) Evaluating flood damages: guidance and recommendations on principles and methods. Accessed 14 Nov 2019

  31. Mielke J, Vermaßen H, Ellenbeck S (2017) Ideals, practices, and future prospects of stakeholder involvement in sustainability science. Proc Natl Acad Sci 114:E10648–E10657.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Muis S, Verlaan M, Winsemius HC, Aerts JCJH, Ward PJ (2016) A global reanalysis of storm surges and extreme sea levels. Nat Commun 7:11969.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Pasqual U., Markandya A (2015). Values of housing and tourism facilities along the Croatian coast. PAP/RAC, Split. (Appendix A). Accessed 14 Nov 2019

  34. Pickering M (2014). The impact of future sea-level rise on the tides. Dissertation, University of Southampton.

  35. Rabus B, Eineder M, Roth A, Bamler R (2003) The shuttle radar topography mission - a new class of digital elevation models acquired by spaceborne radar. ISPRS J Photogramm Remote Sens 57:241–262.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Ramsay DL, Gibberd B, Dahm J, Bell RG (2012) Defining coastal hazard zones and setback lines. A guide to good practice. National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research Ltd, Hamilton, New Zealand. Accessed 14 Nov 2019

  37. Rochette J, du Puy-Montbrun G, Billé R (2010) Coastal setback zones in the Mediterranean: a study on Article 8–2 of the Mediterranean ICZM Protocol. IDDRI. Accessed 14 Nov 2019

  38. Rose A, Porter K, Dash N, Bouabid J, Huyck C, Whitehead J, Shaw D, Eguchi R, Taylor C, McLane T, Tobin LT, Ganderton PT, Godschalk D, Kiremidjian AS, Tierney K, West CT (2007) Benefit-cost analysis of FEMA hazard mitigation grants. Nat Hazards Rev 8:4.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Sanò M, Jiménez JA, Medina R, Stanica A, Sanchez-Arcilla A, Trumbic I (2011) The role of coastal setbacks in the context of coastal erosion and climate change. Ocean Coast Manag 54:943–950.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Shows EW (1978) Florida’s coastal setback line – an effort to regulate beachfront development. Coast Manag 4:151–164.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Tol RSJ, Nicholls RJ, Brown S, Hinkel J, Vafeidis AT, Spencer T, Schuerch M (2016) Comment on ‘The Global Impacts of Extreme Sea-Level Rise: A Comprehensive Economic Assessment’. Environ Resour Econ 64:341–344.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. UNDP (2008) A climate for change: climate change and its impacts on society and economy in Croatia. Human Development Report Croatia. Accessed 19 Feb 2019

  43. UNEP/MAP/PAP (2008) Protocol on integrated coastal zone management in the Mediterranean. Accessed 14 Nov 2019

  44. Vafeidis AT, Nicholls RJ, McFadden L, Tol RSJ, Hinkel J, Spencer T, Grashoff PS, Boot G, Klein RJT (2008) A new global coastal database for impact and vulnerability analysis to sea-level rise. J Coast Res 24:917–924.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Vousdoukas MI, Mentaschi L, Voukouvalas E, Bianchi A, Dottori F, Feyen L (2018) Climatic and socioeconomic controls of future coastal flood risk in Europe. Nat Clim Chang 8:776–780.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Wolff C, Vafeidis AT, Lincke D, Marasmi C, Hinkel J (2016) Effects of scale and input data on assessing the future impacts of coastal flooding: an application of DIVA for the Emilia-Romagna coast. Front Mar Sci 3:41.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Wolff C, Vafeidis AT, Muis S, Lincke D, Satta A, Lionello P, Jimenez JA, Conte D, Hinkel J (2018) A Mediterranean coastal database for assessing the impacts of sea-level rise and associated hazards. Sci Data 5:180044.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Yohe G, Knee K, Kirshen P (2011) On the economics of coastal adaptation solutions in an uncertain world. Clim Chang 106:71–92.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers who helped to greatly improve an earlier draft of this paper and Maureen Tsakiris for helping to prepare Figures 2 and 3.


This research was funded by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) under the GEF PROJECT ID 3990. Other portions of this research were made possible by support from the European Union through the projects RISES-AM (funded by the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme, 2007–2013, under the grant agreement No. 603396) and GREEN-WIN (funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 642018).

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Daniel Lincke.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Communicated by Virginia Burkett

Electronic supplementary material


(PDF 21.7 mb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Lincke, D., Wolff, C., Hinkel, J. et al. The effectiveness of setback zones for adapting to sea-level rise in Croatia. Reg Environ Change 20, 46 (2020).

Download citation


  • Coastal setback
  • Construction restriction
  • Managed realignment
  • Coastal protection
  • Coastal retreat