Finding a climate change signal on coasts is more problematic than often assumed. Coasts undergo natural dynamics at many scales, with erosion and recovery in response to climate variability such as El Niño, or extreme events such as storms and infrequent tsunamis. Additionally, humans have had enormous impacts on most coasts, overshadowing most changes that one can presently attribute directly to climate change. Each area of coast is experiencing its own pattern of relative sea-level change and climate change, making discrimination of the component of degradation that results from climate change problems. The best examples of a climate influence are related to temperature rise at low and high latitudes, as seen by the impacts on coral reefs and polar coasts, respectively. Observations through the twentieth century demonstrate the importance of understanding the impacts of sea-level rise and climate change in the context of multiple drivers of change this will remain a challenge under a more rapidly changing climate. Nevertheless, there are emerging signs that climate change provides a global threat-sea ice is retreating, permafrost in coastal areas is widely melting. Reefs are bleaching more often, and the sea is rising-amplifying widespread trends of subsidence and threatening low-lying areas. To enhance the sustainability of coastal systems, management strategies will also need to address this challenge, focusing on the drivers that are dominant at each section of coast. Global warming through the twentieth century has caused a series of changes with important implications for coastal areas. These include rising temperatures, rising sea level, increasing CO2 concentrations with an associated reduction in seawater pH, and more intense precipitation on average.