MAP: The French towns at urgent risk from coastal erosion

The French government has published a new report listing the towns and cities most at risk from coastal erosion.

MAP: The French towns at urgent risk from coastal erosion
Twin villas built on the sand dune on the coast in Biscarrosse that are at risk of collapsing due to coastal erosion (Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)

A recent government report found that 126 French municipalities, or the equivalent of one fifth of the French coastline, are at high risk of coastal erosion.

The majority of these are located on the Western coast of the country, with 41 in Brittany, 16 in Normandy, 31 in New Aquitaine.

They include popular holiday sports such as Biarritz, La-Tranche-sur-Mer and Saint-Jean-de-Luz. 

The new Climate and Resilience law, will now require affected municipalities to make key changes in order to adapt to climate change. Specifically, mayors will have to commission maps that predict the risk of coastal recession for 30 years in the future, and then again for 100 years in the future. These maps will serve as a basis for new rules of regarding land use, including new regulations on construction.

Overall, 864 municipalities are listed as “particularly vulnerable,” with the 126 shown above are considered as highly vulnerable. The list of impacted communities will be updated every nine years.   

In France, 1.5 million people live in these zones, meaning they are at particular risk for violent storms and flooding.

READ MORE: MAP: Where in France is most at risk from erosion and rising sea levels

How does coastal erosion work?

Coastal erosion is largely impacted by global sea level rise, and the “hardness” of the shore plays a role in how rapidly the coastline is able to be eroded (take a sandy shoreline versus one with cliffs).

This infographic by French daily Le Parisien helps explain the causes of coastal erosion.

You can find the full list of at-risk communities here.

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French riviera: Unesco tsunami warning for Marseille and Cannes

Unesco has announced that the Mediterranean - including the French cities of Marseille and Cannes - will be at risk of tsunamis within the next 30 years, and therefore has included it in its tsunami protection program

French riviera: Unesco tsunami warning for Marseille and Cannes

The risk of tsunamis in the Mediterranean Sea is real – on October 16th, 1979, a tsunami, caused by a landslide, hit the coast of Nice and killed a dozen people. More recently, the Greek island of Samos in the Aegean Sea was hit by a tsunami in 2020.

But the climate crisis and rising sea levels mean that experts fear that in the future they will no longer be rare events along the Mediterranean coast.

Unesco has therefore announced that it will be adding thousands of communities to its Tsunami Ready Plan, including the French cities of Marseille and Cannes.

Experts fear that tsunamis in the Mediterranean could reach up to a metre in height and are almost guaranteed in the next 30 years.

According to Unesco’s calculations, “there is a 100% chance” that tsunamies will occur in the Mediterranean “over the next thirty years.” Therefore, the UN organisation has called for public authorities to institute their multistep programme, which would encourage awareness, warning, and prevention mechanisms for at-risk coastal communities. 

The preparedness program seeks to ensure that these cities and towns, like Marseille and Cannes, will have the necessary response mechanisms in place by 2030.

The Tsunami Ready program, which has already been piloted in dozens of communities across the Caribbean, Pacific and Indian Ocean regions and was prepared by Unesco experts, establishes twelve indicators to be respected by the communities concerned. This means that Marseille and Cannes will be expected create plans for identifying tsunamis threats and build community awareness and preparation for how to cope with tsunamis.

The twelve readiness indicators are shown in the graphic below:

Communities must meet all 12 indicators, which cover Assessment, Preparedness, and Response, will be recognized as ‘Tsunami Ready’ by the UNESCO/IOC.

Tsunamis are usually caused by seismic activity (78 percent of them) – like the deadly Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 that killed over 210,000 people, but 10 percent are also caused by volcanic activity and landslides, like the tsunami that hit the Pacific island of Tonga in January. Meanwhile, the rare 2 percent are caused by meteorological activity.

However, the increased concern for tsunamis along France’s Mediterranean coast is in part due to rising sea levels (resulting from the climate crisis) and the need to better monitor underwater volcanos.

Rising sea levels can lead to an increase in the power of tsunamis – up to tenfold. In some parts of the world, such as Macao, scientists estimate that  tsunamis will have twice their current impact by 2050.

Even a tsunami of 50cm high can do a lot of damage – what sounds like a small flow of water is actually capable of lifting a car and depositing it several dozen meters away.