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expert reaction to press release from the Environment Agency about coastal communities and sea level rise

In a press release the Environment Agency’s chief executive Sir James Bevan warns that inevitable climate impacts will mean some coastal communities cannot stay where they are.


Prof Andrew Shepherd, Director of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling, University of Leeds, said:

“With every centimetre of sea level rise, 2 to 3 million more people worldwide experience coastal flooding each year. In the UK alone, a million citizens will be exposed to annual flooding by the end of this century, and so its right to start a planned retreat from the most vulnerable parts of our shoreline.”


Prof Robert Nicholls, Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at UEA, said:

“This is a timely official recognition of a major problem that has been predictable for some time but easy to ignore as it only slowly becomes apparent. Only by recognising and addressing these challenges today can we find appropriate solutions over the coming decades. And that analysis will lead to difficult questions and hard decisions both for coastal residents and UK and global society.”


Prof Richard Betts, Met Office and University of Exeter, said:

“It is quite clear that sea levels will continue to rise over the next century and beyond, so we will need to find ways to adapt whilst also trying to keep further rise to a minimum. Even with deep and rapid emissions cuts, it is likely that sea levels will rise between a quarter and half a metre by the end of the century, increasing to 2 to 3 metres over the next two millennia. Without such ambitious emissions cuts, even faster and larger rises will locked in, further increasing the difficulty of adaptation, especially for those in vulnerable low-lying countries who are increasingly concerned for their future.”


Prof Daniela Schmidt, Cabot Institute and School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, said:

“Flooding along our rivers and coasts is one of the key risks of climate change in the UK. Sea level rise is threatening coastal communities, infrastructure along our coasts, and our cultural heritage. The recent IPCC report projected that coastal flood damage will be increasing at least tenfold by the end of this century in Europe and even more if we do not change the way we live in these places.

“While early warning systems can reduce risks, managed retreat is a reality which we need to face. Nature, helping to protect us from flooding, is itself under threat from climate change but also from decisions we take to protect our infrastructure and homes.”


Prof Ilan Kelman, Professor of Disasters and Health at University College London, said:

“Coastal erosion is a long-standing concern around England and Wales. Dunwich’s slow disappearance has been legendary for centuries while areas of southeast England have been sinking since the last ice age ended. Parts of The Fens in the east have long been below sea level due to drainage. Tollesbury in Essex has been a site of experimental “managed realignment” of the coastline since 1995.

“Climate change’s sea-level rise is accelerating coastal inundation and making it worse. It is also expanding the communities which must consider relocating as coastlines move inland. Realigning our shoreline homes to live with the ever-changing sea is devastating. It is nothing new for England and Wales.”


Dr Natasha Barlow, Associate Professor in the School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, said:

“The speed and amount of future sea-level rise can be limited by restricting global temperatures. However, we are already committed to some degree of rising sea levels and coastal erosion due to the long-term melt of ice sheets, as a result of climate change.  Therefore, there is a need for a range of adaptation strategies, which in some cases will require coastal communities to have to relocate as land is lost to the sea.  Improved understanding of our coastal landscapes, for example through the updated national coastal erosion risk map, will help communities make informed decisions as too the best way to respond to climate change.”


Prof Jim Hall FREng, Professor of Climate and Environmental Risks at the University of Oxford, said:

“The Environment Agency is recognising that the coast is inevitably going to be impacted by sea level rise. Even if the Environment Agency could afford to build coast protection everywhere – which they cannot – the things that many people cherish about the coast, like beaches and sand dunes, will eventually become submerged, unless we start to plan now for how the coastline can adjust to rising sea levels. There need to be honest conversations within coastal communities about what the future holds, and a strategic approach to deciding how to manage the coast sustainably in the future.”



Declared interests

Prof Daniela Schmidt: “No competing interests.”

No others received.



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