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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%.

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

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

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

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

  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. 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. 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.


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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).

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Correspondence to Daniel Lincke.

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Communicated by Virginia Burkett

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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).

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