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The IMCORE project ran from 2008 to 2011 and was funded under the EU Interreg IVB programme.

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Practical tips for following the IMCORE approach to planning to adapt to coastal climate change 

Cork Harbour is a large natural harbour located on the southern coast of the island of Ireland (see Figure 1) and exerts a considerable influence on the City of Cork and its environs given its ecological, social and economic importance.


Figure 1: Geographical location of Cork Harbour, Ireland


Ecological Profile

Cork Harbour is a sheltered coastal environment, with a diverse natural heritage that accommodates a range of activities and uses. The topography of the landscape is gently undulating, with a mixed coastline consisting of built infrastructure, shallow cliffs, intertidal mudflats, reed beds, shingle and rocky foreshores. The western extent of the Harbour is characterised by estuarine influences where the River Lee discharges to the complex estuary zone. The navigation channel in the Harbour is maintained at a depth of 11m for shipping and maritime transport.

Cork Harbour is of major international importance for waders (20,000) and wildfowl (5,000), and is designated as both a Ramsar wetland site of international importance and a Special Protection Area for birds. Other designations within the Harbour protect important habitats and include candidate Special Areas of Conservation and proposed Natural Heritage Areas with the River Lee designated as a salmonid river under the EC Directive.

Socio-Economic Profile

Social context

The Harbour itself provides a natural public amenity. Natural assets enjoyed by local communities include an attractive coastline and a rich maritime heritage. The Lower Harbour is strongly influenced by naval heritage. Military fortifications include the impressive forts which mark the entrance to the Harbour with additional fortifications include installations on Spike Island and five Martello Towers, dating to the Napoleanic era located in the Harbour.

The development of marine tourism and recreation activities in Cork Harbour is dependent on maintaining good environmental quality standards. Conservation areas are monitored by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a remit to regulate discharges from industrial activities around the Harbour.

Economic Context

Cork Harbour represents one of the largest concentrations of pharmaceutical industries in the world with a significant amount of these facilities concentrated mainly in coastal locations. The physical geography of the Harbour on the south coast of Ireland provides a strategic location for the Port of Cork situated in close proximity to the main shipping line to northern Europe.

Port operations are distributed throughout the Harbour, from a city centre location to the ferry terminal at Ringaskiddy. More recently, Cork Harbour has become a primary destination for cruise liners, which berth in the heritage town of Cobh. In 2010, over 50 vessels are scheduled to avail of the Port of Cork facilities in Cork Harbour. The presence of the Kinsale and Seven Head gas fields, offshore from Cork Harbour, has resulted in the location of many exploration companies in the Harbour over the last 30 years, including Conoco Philips, Shell and Marathon.

Because of the geographic scope and sheltered nature of Cork Harbour it has a long tradition of recreational boating, including sailing, fishing and power boating. The Harbour has developed a world class reputation for sailing and these activities generate significant revenue for the local economy.

Climate Change

The most obvious climate change impact on the sectors that routinely utilise the Harbour is flooding as this has historically had negative social and economic implications, especially for residents and business owners in vulnerable areas of the City Centre. It is essential that Cork can adapt to the both the impacts of contemporary flooding and future flood events especially given the likelihood of increased occurrences and severity of flooding events under climate change predictions. Whilst flooding is the primary consideration, other expected changes, for example in storm patterns and meteorological conditions, would have obvious effects on maritime activities including recreational and Port activities.

Cork Harbour is a large natural harbour located on the southern coast of the island of Ireland (Figure 1) and exerts a considerable influence on the City of Cork and its environs given its ecological, social and economic importance.

Drivers of climate change

Communicating climate change science can be a arduous task and the ECN in Cork Harbour were fortunate in that Professor Robert Devoy, Head of the School of Human Environment at University College Cork, and a contributing author of the IPCC's Third Assessment Report (2001) had agreed to actively participate in the IMCORE project. He provided a well-received comprehensive, yet transparent, presentation outlining the causes and consequences of global climate change at an IMCORE Issues Workshop held in May of 2009. Professor Devoy presented evidence of the role of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions in triggering global warming via the mechanism of radiative forcing in the atmosphere, explaining the 'greenhouse effect' to an audience of diverse stakeholders in the management of Cork Harbour. Armed with this information, stakeholders were then invited to consider a range of projected climate impacts across key sectors of activity in Cork Harbour.

In Ireland, research has been undertaken to provide downscaled climate impact projections to catchment level (Sweeney et al 2008; McGrath et al 2009). Based on this work, impact projections for the Cork region were summarised to provide a basis for discussion at the IMCORE Issues Workshop of May 2009:

• Flooding - Projections indicate increased risk of flooding; linked to precipitation patterns, storm patterns, and sea level rise.

• Sea Temperature - 0.85°C rise in Irish coastal seas since 1950; 2007 warmest year in Irish coastal record.

• Sea Level Rise - During the satellite era SLR of 3.5cm per decade has been observed. Projected rise of 60cm to 2100.

• Sea Chemistry - Atlantic waters freshened from 1960-1990 and are now becoming more saline.

• Extreme Weather - Observed decrease in the frequency of storms, but the intensity of storms has increased.

• Waves and Surges - Evidence of significant increase in wave heights (up to 30cm) during winter months.

• Precipitation - Drier summers in the south east. Winter rainfall in Ireland by the 2050s is projected to increase by approximately 10% while reductions in summer of 12–17% are projected by the same time. By the 2080s, winter rainfall will have increased by 11–17% and summer rainfall will have reduced by 14–25%.

• Temperature - Mean annual temperatures in Ireland have risen by 0.7°C over the past century. Recent research suggests mean temperatures in Ireland relative to the 1961–1990 averages are likely to rise by 1.4–1.8°C by the 2050s and by in excess of 2°C by the end of the century.

• Water run-off - Climate change will result in greater variability in flow rates.

Impacts of climate change in the case study area

The key issue identified in relation to climate change in Cork Harbour is the impact of flooding, and thus flood risk management came to dominate discussions of adaptation to future climate change. Cork City is at increasing risk from the impacts of future sea level rise and has experienced significant recent flood events. Cork City's low-lying location and geographical position within the River Lee's Catchment area means that the central business district of the City is at risk of flooding in addition to the towns within the Harbour. Agricultural areas located upstream on the River Lee Catchment Area are also at increased risk of flooding due to more frequent intense rain events. There are a significant number of key economic assets such as port facilities, electrical and water services, loss of habitat / biodiversity, road and rail transportation links, significant employment areas, cultural / heritage sites and population centres adjoining coastal areas of the harbour, which are at increased risk of flooding from higher sea levels.

There is a clear imperative in these circumstances to establish planning policy that encourages green-field development to be located in areas that are not prone to flooding. At locations that are currently prone to flooding it may not be feasible to relocate existing residential and commercial developments, including many which are critical to the city's economic and infrastructural life. These brownfield sites will require a strategic and innovative approach to flood management in order to successfully adapt to changing climatic circumstances.

ICZM and institutional context

The current fragmented approach to planning and management means that the full potential of Cork Harbour as a distinct and unique geographical unit is not being realised. This was highlighted in 2005 and it was suggested that an Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) principles would be readily applicable to Cork Harbour. It was felt that this approach could facilitate a move towards sustainable development, involving economic, social and environmental interests across all levels of decision making in the Harbour. The added value of implementing an ICZM approach in Cork Harbour was identified as:

• Better communication between different stakeholder groups;

• Creation of a framework for taking a holistic view of the Harbour across its entire geographical extent, from the Docklands in the city centre to the Harbour entrance at Roches Point.

In support of adopting an ICZM approach an Integrated Management Strategy for Cork Harbour began to be developed in 2006. This was published in 2008 and, although non-statutory and therefore not subject to a formal SEA, its launch received cross-party support and it had buy-in from the key stakeholders in the Harbour including representatives from the following institutes who formed a Harbour Management Focus Group including:

o Irish Naval Service / National Maritime College

o Cobh and Harbour Chamber of Commerce

o Industrial Development Agency

o Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food

o National Parks and Wildlife Service

o South Western River Basin District

o Cork County Council

o Cork City Council

o Environmental Protection Agency

o East Cork Area Development Ltd.

o Port of Cork

o Fáilte Ireland (Irish Tourist Board)

The ICZM process advocates the use of a combination of tools and this includes the application of technology to raise awareness of the implications of policy decision. It was hoped that the development of a fully operational SAF would be a vital tool to inform and guide the ICZM process already underway in Cork Harbour as it could provide answers to how the system responds to proposed policy, or other probable changes, using a simulation model and subsequent analysis.


This learning portal brings together the results and lessons learned from the IMCORE project. This project was funded under the Interreg IVB programme from 2008 to 2011.

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