Some of Britain’s coastal communities will “inevitably” be evicted from their homes as climate change is eating away at their beaches, the head of Britain’s Environment Agency (EA) will warn today.
EA chief executive Sir James Bevan is expected to say rising sea levels – fueled by warmer oceans and melting ice – will mean “some of our communities – both in this country and around the world – cannot survive where they are”.
“While we can return safely and rebuild better after most river floods, there is no turning back for land that has been ripped away by coastal erosion or whose sea level has risen permanently or is frequently underwater,” Sir James would say. in a speech at the Flood and Coast Conference in Telford.
He would argue that while the goal is to keep the communities where they are, in some places it makes more economic and human sense to move them out of harm’s way than to try to protect them from the “increasing threat of flooding from rivers, seas, and surface waters.” and coastal erosion”.
Sir James’ acknowledgment of the planned retreat was welcomed by climate scientists who warn that sea levels will continue to rise – in some areas beyond our ability to adapt.
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Professor Robert Nicholls, director of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research called it “a timely official acknowledgment of a major problem that has been predictable for some time but is easily overlooked as it is only slowly becoming apparent”.
Professor Ilan Kelman, Professor of Disaster and Health at University College London, said leaving the community was “devastating” but “nothing new for England and Wales”.
The Welsh village of Fairbourne has been notified that it must be moved because Gywnedd Council cannot maintain flood defenses indefinitely. The lowland fens of eastern England, which account for 7% of British agricultural production, lie partly below sea level due to drainage.
A recent report from the IPCC – the United Nations’ international group of climate scientists – projects that coastal flood damage in Europe will increase at least tenfold by the end of this century, and even more so if we do not change the way people live. in these areas.
In the UK, one million people are expected to be affected by annual coastal flooding by the end of the century.
Sir James’ remarks come as EA launches new plans to prepare the UK for flooding and coastal change.
The agency aims to improve flood risk assessment and mapping, as well as information on investment decisions. It has also channeled £150 million into 25 new innovative projects to address the threat of flooding and coastal change.
Jim Hall, professor of climate and environmental risk at the University of Oxford said: “Even if the Environment Agency was able to build beach protection everywhere – which they couldn’t – the things that many people appreciate about beaches, like beaches and dunes, end up will become submerged, unless we start planning now how coastlines can adapt to rising sea levels.”
He called for “honest conversations” in coastal communities about the future, and strategic approaches to managing beaches in a sustainable manner.