Almost 200,000 homes and businesses in England risk being lost to rising seas by the 2050s, according to a new study.
The analysis identified up to 1,900km of shoreline – 30% of England’s coast – where authorities currently plan to “hold the line” of existing flood defences, along which some people may well have to move inland instead as water creeps up and waves intensify.
“We are not trying to scaremonger,” lead author Paul Sayers from the University of East Anglia’s Tyndall Centre told Sky News.
But the necessary “strategic response” to sea level rise “hasn’t been grappled with or addressed at a national scale”, he said.
“We need an honest debate about sea level rise – that hasn’t been happening.”
Published today in the peer-reviewed journal Oceans and Coastal Management, the paper estimated an extra 160,000 buildings are at risk from coastal flooding on top of the roughly 35,000 already identified.
How many of those that will have to be moved is a matter for public policy, it says.
The 10 English local authorities facing the greatest challenge with rising seas, which will be unlikely to be able to “hold the line” as currently planned, are expected to be North Somerset, Wyre, Swale, Tendring, Maldon, parts of Suffolk Coastal, North Norfolk, Cornwall, Medway and Sedgemoor.
The price tag on damages from coastal flooding is projected to double from £60m today to around £120m by the 2050s.
While sea levels are expected to rise by one metre in England by the end of this century, the urgency of the threat is “often fudged in coastal policy”, and the discussion remains “couched in the context of a question for future decision makers alone”, the paper said.
“This is a mistake,” it added.
It picked holes in government and local policies that “lack clarity” about how to “transform” some areas of coastline, which could include rolling back defences and moving properties.
Last week the Environment Agency chief sounded the alarm on coastal communities condemned to be swallowed by the sea as climate change shrinks Britain’s coastline.
The government has earmarked £5.2bn for flood and coastal defences from 2021, which will cover flood defences and protection for properties.
A government spokesperson said it was “exploring innovative approaches to adapt to the effects of coastal erosion”, and a forthcoming review would outline plans to manage the risk of coastal change over the next 100 years.
‘This will not be easy’
“Sea level rise is one of the clearest signals that we have from climate change,” said Mr Sayers. “And it will continue to rise for the moment regardless of what we do with emissions to some extent.”
The research examined how rising seas caused by climate change, combined with increased erosion of foreshores by bigger waves, are raising the risk of coastal flooding.
While some communities can be saved by buffering defences, in cases where this will be too expensive or complex, people need help and financial support with the change.
“This will not be easy” but transforming the coastline “requires a clarity of decision today and cannot be delegated to the future”, the paper warns.
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