Identifying barriers and potentials of integrated assessments of sustainable urban development and adaptation to rising sea levels

Anna Lea Eggert*, Roland Löwe, Karsten Arnbjerg-Nielsen

*Corresponding author for this work

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Current adaptation responses to sea-level rise tend to focus on protecting existing infrastructure resulting in unsustainable adaptation pathways. At the same time, urban development compromises a city’s adaptive capacity if the climate risk component is ignored. While fighting for the same space, these two domains are currently widely analyzed separately. This paper develops a framework for integrating sustainability assessments of sustainable urban development (SUD) and coastal adaptation to climate change (CACC). Through a systematic literature review, we collected more than 2,700 indicators for SUD and 1,800 indicators for CACC. The indicators occurring most frequently are extracted and structured into frameworks. The study highlights the differences and similarities between the two frameworks. We further identify complementary and conflicting objectives that can advance or inhibit the effective integration of SUD and CACC. CACC tends to focus on assessing specific adaptation measures and their immediate impact on the city’s vulnerability, ignoring wider impacts on socioeconomic systems. SUD considers the city and its functions as a whole but ignores vulnerability assessments across urban subsystems. We develop a combined framework for sustainability assessment that may serve as a basis for both qualitative and quantitative integrated studies under the paradigm of sustainable adaptation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number110078
JournalEcological Indicators
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

This work was funded by Realdania through the project Cities and Rising Sea Levels. We would like to thank the researchers from the Aarhus School of Architecture and the University of Copenhagen who contributed to this study with valuable discussions as part of the project. Furthermore, we want to thank the employees at the department of Technology & Environment of Vejle Municipality for their important input and feedback during a workshop on indicators.


  • Sustainable urban development
  • Coastal adaptation
  • Indicators
  • Sustainable adaptation
  • Urban systems
  • Flood Vulnerability


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