Climate Change and Wadden Sea - Consequences of Climate Change for the Wadden Sea Region and the development of solution scenarios within the framework of ICZM

Background and Goals

Since 2004, the Michael Otto Foundation ("Michael Otto Stiftung") has held a series of ‘Hamburg Dialogues for Nature Conservation’ every year. Involving experts from the sciences, politics, and nature conservation, the Hamburg Dialogues serve to stimulate public debate on key environmental topics, to create awareness for the needs of nature conservation, and to develop integrated national and international solutions. In 2005, the focus of the topics was on the increase in the sea level and the resulting conflicts between nature conservation and coastal protection in the Wadden Sea area. The talks showed that such conflicts can be avoided if suitable strategies are developed and measures decided at an early stage. In order to initiate and control the necessary dialogue, the Michael Otto Foundation has launched the project "Climate Change and the Wadden Sea", co-financed by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) and the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN).

The project has two main objectives:

  1. To develop alternative strategies for dealing with the effects of climate change in the entire Wadden Sea region in dialogue with relevant stakeholders.
  2. To develop a practical approach towards organizing productive dialogue processes within the framework of the ICZM.

In 2006 and 2007, a large number of talks and workshops were held with experts from the sciences, nature conservation, coastal defence and government administrations. On the basis of the results obtained by this means, the Michael Otto Foundation published a position paper, which includes an analysis of the current situation and a proposal on further steps to formulate a national strategy for dealing with the consequences of climate change for the entire Wadden Sea region, and pleads for the removal of the distinction between intertidal zones and the protected areas of the coastal lowlands.

The relevant partners of the expert panel are selected on the basis of a short study of their most important publications and projects by the participating institutions. The panel will outline a limited number of alternative, plausible scenarios designed to deal with the sea level rise in the Wadden Sea, which will combine both sea defence and nature conservation aspects. Success and impact projections of these planning alternatives, using computer-based simulations and scenario developments, are used for cause-and-effect analyses of environmental and process encroachments, and help to choose the best action variants. For the stakeholders, including political and state functionaries, these scenarios provide a basis for rational discussions and the development of strategies for the conservation of the Wadden Sea as part of a sustainable regional development.

Content time


Research area/region

  • Germany
Region of implementation (all German federal states)
  • Lower Saxony
  • Schleswig-Holstein
Natural spatial classification
  • coasts: North Sea-/Baltic Sea coasts
  • North-West German lowland

Steps in the process of adaptation to climate change

Step 1: Understand and describe climate change

Approach and results 

Estimates of global sea level rise according to the IPCC (4th assessment report, 2007); development of alternative sea level rise scenarios for the Wadden Sea (the scenarios of the CPSL project are also taken into account)

Parameter (climate signals)
  • Sea level rise und storm surges
Further Parameters 

tide range

Step 2a: Identify and assess risks - climate effects and impact

Approach and results 

The resident population, the economy, and the biodiversity in the habitats of the Wadden Sea are vulnerable to the climate-induced sea level rise. Both coastal defence and nature conservation must prepare early for the expected changes.

Step 3: Develop and compare measures

Measures and/or strategies 

Development of an integrated planning strategy and analysis of the possibilities of a practice-oriented implementation of solution strategies to reduce the conflicts between nature conservation requirements and coastal defence strategies .

The conclusion is that ecology-friendly coastal defence measures in response to the rising sea level are technically possible, but very expensive. For optimum solutions, there is often not enough room, which is when land use conflicts will occur. Without advance planning strategies, there will be a loss of certain habitats and species in the Wadden Sea, or even entire areas. Preventive measures built on the basis of projection scenarios offer alternatives that require an intelligent spatial development and a consensus between the relevant stakeholders.

Time horizon
  • 2071–2100 (far future)
Conflicts / synergies / sustainability 

Conflict of interest between nature conservation and coastal defence: The project aims at delivering strategies and recommendations for action for central themes such as climate protection and biodiversity protection, and at contributing to the implementation of the German ICZM strategy (Integrated Coastal Zone Management). To this end, possible adaptation approaches for dealing with the climate change in the German coastal Zones are provided that are transferable and have a signal effect. Participation and communication models continue to be developed.


Funding / Financing 

Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) and Federal Office for Nature Conservation (BfN)

Project management 

Michael Otto Foundation for Environmental Protection


Michael Otto Stiftung für Umweltschutz
Wandsbeker Straße 3-7
D-22179 Hamburg

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Fields of action:
 biological diversity  coastal and marine protection