Cape Town’s Coastal Set-back line ensures that development does not encroach on the immediate coastal environment, encouraging risk-averse coastal planning that takes into account climatic changes now and in the future.

In 2012, the City of Cape Town developed the Coastal Set-back line in order to guide the city’s decision-makers to more effectively regulate coastal development and to safeguard the coastline against future climate change risks. Developing the Coastal Set-back line included both biophysical aspects, such as risks related to sea level rise, coastal erosion, and biodiversity as well as socio-economic aspects such as promoting access to the coast and involving members of the public in the design, thereby improving city resilience and social justice.

Critical to the development of the set-back line was the fact that no legislation in South Africa had previously been designed to resolve and manage existing at-risk infrastructure – both natural and manmade. The implementation of the Coastal Set-back line will be used to enhance other regulatory mechanisms within the city that address climate change risks. Cape Town’s commitment to coastal protection and ambition for guided decision-making across departments and spheres of government is also reflected in other new policies, such as the Coastal and Sea Defense Decision Framework, which seeks to reduce the risks connected to sea level rise.

$5.9 million worth of ecosystem services are protected by the Coastal Set-back line

The challenge

While Cape Town’s coastline is one of the city’s most important assets, it is also a source of risk, given rising sea levels and frequent storms. The coastline’s complex nexus of social, economic, ecological, and legislative systems is managed by three distinct tiers of government, and the absence of a city-wide strategic decision-making support framework had aggravated the risks to the coast. The city’s Coastal Set-back line therefore guides strategic municipal decision-making and promotes sustainable coastal development that ensures the coast will remain a treasured asset for Cape Town.


Economic Protecting and enhancing the socio-economic value of the coastline by encouraging development that is set back from the immediate coastal environment will enhance the benefits provided by the coastline.

Environmental The Coastal Set-back line protects more than 240 km of coastline, securing biodiversity in the local environment.

Social The socio-economic potential of the coast can be enhanced through economic development strategies, supported by the Coastal Set-back line, which will benefit previously disadvantaged communities and help redress entrenched social injustices caused by apartheid.

About Cape Town

Cape Town is a coastal city in South Africa. It is the second-most populous urban area in South Africa after Johannesburg. It is also the capital and primate city of the Western Cape province. The city is famous for its harbour, for its natural setting in the Cape Floristic Region, and for such well-known landmarks as Table Mountain and Cape Point. It is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, reflecting its role as a major destination for immigrants and expatriates to South Africa.

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