Stock Groups

Climate change will force some UK communities to move, official says


Photographed in 2020, houses on England’s east coast. The chief executive of Britain’s Environment Agency, said Tuesday that climate change would force some communities to relocate.

Owen Humphreys, PA Images | PA Images | Getty Images

The chief executive of the U.K.’s Environment Agency has issued a stark warning to coastal communities, acknowledging that the effects of climate change will force people — both in the U.K. and abroad — to relocate due to rising sea levels and coastal erosion.

James Bevan spoke out about the “hardest truth of all inconvenient facts” and said that climate change would mean “some of the communities in this country, as well as around the globe, can’t stay where they are.”

He said that although we are able to come back and rebuild better following most floods, it’s impossible for land destroyed by coastal erosion, which is often permanent, or made more frequently underwater, to be rebuilt.  

Rising sea levels are a danger to coastal communities all over the globe, including islands in the Pacific or Indian Oceans.

The President of Maldives, a nation of 1,192 islands, spoke at last year’s COP26 climate summit to emphasize the danger facing the archipelago.

Ibrahim Mohamed Solih declared that the sea is slowly inundating each island. The Maldives could disappear if we don’t stop this trend by the end this century.

In the meantime, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the U.S. warned in February that seas along their coastlines will rise on average by one foot between 2050 and 2050. It’s the same as the 100-year increase.

The U.K.’s Bevan, who was speaking on Tuesday at a conference in Telford, Shropshire, argued that “in some places the right answer — in economic, in strategic, in human terms — will have to be to move communities away from the danger rather than to try and protect them from the inevitable impacts of a rising sea level.”

Bevan added that climate change’s effects would continue to get worse in remarks made on the U.K. government website. He said that “it is inevitable” that certain communities from the coast will need to be relocated.

This is May the World Meteorological Organization said the global mean sea level had “reached a new record high in 2021, rising an average of 4.5 mm per year over the period 2013–2021.”

The WMO stated that this rate was nearly twice what it was between 1993 and 2002 and is “primarily due to an accelerated loss in ice mass from ice sheets.”

The “major consequences” for many coastal residents of hundreds of million are likely, along with increasing the “vulnerability to tropical storms”.

Plan for the United Kingdom

Bevan’s speech was made on the same day his agency published its Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy Roadmap.

This roadmap is for the period of 2026. It outlines the plans that will ensure that “the country” is ready and resilient to floods and other coastal hazards.

The plan will, among other things:

  • Establish “a new national assessment for flood risk”, focusing on rivers, surface waters and the oceans.
  • Improve the digital tools of Environment Agency so that people can view their flood risk and sign-up for flood warnings.
  • Collaborate with Town and Country Planning Association in the creation of training materials, with the aim to increase “skills and abilities” regarding flood risk and development planning.

The image below is from 2018, and shows properties at the edge of a rock on Norfolk’s coast. Many coastal communities worldwide are at risk from rising sea levels and erosion.

Getty Images| PA Images | Getty Images

Bevan acknowledged that community relocations would be controversial but he sought to dispel fears.

His main goal was to make sure that, whenever possible, the coastal communities remain where they are and continue to thrive.

“I feel that we can accomplish that for the majority of the coast communities in this nation with the right interventions over these coming years,” he stated.

Bevan said that it was “far too soon to know which communities will need to relocate in the future, and even less to take any decisions.”

Additionally, people who live in at-risk zones would need to have their views considered when making a decision.

He said, “Noone should be forced to leave their home against their will.” “But — and there is a but — we do need to start the conversation about all this now.”

‘Honest conversations’

The U.K.’s announcement prompted many to react. Jim Hall from the University of Oxford, Professor of Climate and Environmental Risks, was among those who reacted to Bevan’s message and Environment Agency’s announcement.

“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,” he said.

CNBC Pro has more information about energy

Hall explained that coastal communities need to have open discussions about their future and adopt a strategy for managing the coast in the future.

Natasha Barlow from the University of Leeds School of Earth and Environment said that the future speed and extent of sea level rise could be controlled by limiting global temperature.

She stated that “but, we have already committed to some extent of rising sea level and coastal erosion as a consequence of the long-term melting of ice shelves, as a direct result of climate change.” 

“There is therefore a need to develop a variety of adaptive strategies that will in some instances require the relocation of coastal communities as their land has been lost to sea.”