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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France destroys seaside flats threatened by coastal erosion

French authorities on Friday started demolishing a seaside block of flats that has come to symbolise the country's battle against climate change-linked coastal erosion.

France destroys seaside flats threatened by coastal erosion

When the four-storey building was built behind the beach in the southwestern Gironde region in 1967, it stood 200 metres away from the shoreline.

But its 75 or so flats in the town of Soulac-sur-Mer had to be evacuated in 2014 after the sea crept up to within 20 metres of the structure.

Local authorities scrambled to rid the building of asbestos in the following years, before a huge mechanical digger took a swing at its facade on Friday, as several former residents looked on.

“It’s the memories of four generations” that are being destroyed, said 76-year-old Vincent Duprat, one of the home owners.

The sea “has taken back what is rightfully hers”.

MAP The French towns at urgent risk from coastal erosion

Environment Minister Christophe Bechu said the demolition was a sign of “what the rising waters and coastal erosion have is store for lots of other areas along the French coastline”.

By 2100, 20 percent of the coastline and up to 50,000 homes would be affected, he said.

Erosion is a natural phenomenon that has helped shape our continents over millennia.

But scientists say it is being accelerated by the warming of the planet, exacerbated by rising sea levels brought about by melting ice caps and glaciers, and by the more powerful waves that warmer oceans hold.

The sandy beaches of the Bay of Biscay between France and Spain are expected to recede by 50 metres by 2050, the Observatory of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine Coastline says.

But climate change and rising sea levels could increase this by an extra 20 metres in some areas, the Observatory’s Nicolas Bernon said.

In 2020, after a seven-year legal battle, a court ruled that French authorities should compensate families who had been forced to evacuate the building in Soulac-sur-Mer to the tune of 70 percent of the original value of their homes.