Huge swathes of Britain’s coastline are at risk of being plunged underwater by 2100 amid sea level rises fuelled by climate change, a new study has warned.
Researchers say parts of the south east and north west of England, south Wales and central Scotland, are most at risk.
They also warned that in these regions even densely populated cities such as London, Cardiff, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh are not safe.
In these areas, flood damage is expected to increase by more than 25 per cent if action is not taken to counter climate change and rising sea levels, according to the study led by the University of Bristol.
It claims that the annual damage caused by flooding in the UK could increase by more than a fifth over the next century unless all international pledges to reduce carbon emissions are met.
Warning: Huge swathes of Britain’s coastline are at risk of being plunged underwater by 2100 amid sea level rises fuelled by climate change, a new study has warned. This graphic shows the areas where the current annual cost of flooding damage (left) is expected to increase over the next 80 years (right)
The study is the first to assess the risk of flooding using the most recent Met Office climate projections, which factor in the likely impact of climate change.
It reveals that the forecasted increase in yearly flooding damage to properties and businesses could be avoided if all countries fulfil the ambitious pledges they signed up to at COP26, although Britain would also need to achieve its Net Zero commitments on time and in full.
WHICH PARTS OF THE ENGLISH COASTLINE WILL BE THE WORST HIT BY EROSION?
Figures published in 2019, based on data collected by the Environmental Agency’s National Coastal Erosion Risk Mapping project, suggest the following areas of England’s coastline will be the worst hit by erosion:
|COASTAL AREA:||LAND ERODED AFTER 20 YEARS:|
|1. Happisburgh, Norfolk||318 feet (97m)|
|2. Kessingland, Suffolk||230 feet (70m)|
|3. Hornsea, East Riding of Yorkshire||223 feet (68m)|
|4. Withernsea, East Riding of Yorkshire||200 feet (61m)|
|5. Sunderland, Tyne & Wear||131 feet (40m)|
|6. Filey, North Yorkshire||131 feet (40m)|
|7. Camber, East Sussex||131 feet (40m)|
If these things do not happen, the study shows that the annual cost of flooding in the UK over the next century could grow by between 13 per cent and 23 per cent, depending on different levels of climate extreme projections.
The study’s lead author Paul Bates, professor of hydrology, said: ‘For the first time this flood model gives us a more accurate and detailed picture of the impact of climate change on the risk of flooding in the future across the UK.
‘The results are a timely warning to the country’s political leaders and business sector that global commitments to significantly reduce carbon emissions must be taken very seriously, and ultimately take effect, in order to mitigate increased losses due to flooding.’
The data has also highlighted the places in the UK where flooding risks will increase most rapidly, even under the best-case scenario where global warming is limited to 3.24°F (1.8°C).
These include the south east and north west of England, south Wales and central Scotland.
The new model also suggests that the risk of flooding in north east and central England, as well as eastern and northern Scotland, will change very little over the next 80 years.
‘Although the most optimistic climate scenarios see only modest increases in flood losses at a national level, these new data demonstrate how this conceals dramatic variations across the country, with some places seeing large changes and others very little,’ said Professor Bates.
‘This is a result of changing patterns of future rainfall, river flow and sea level rise, and this leads to the regional differences we predict.’
The model predicted 1-in-250-year flood water depth for Carlisle, showing maximum levels of water elevation
This graph shows how the cost of flooding to Britain has increased as global warming has risen
He added: ‘We found that flooding increases most in places where risk is already high now, so the best thing we can do to prepare for the impact of climate change is to strengthen flood management in currently at-risk areas, and this will bring immediate economic and social benefits as well.’
The new model takes into account historical flood risk and future climate projections, while researchers used flood losses from the Association of British Insurers to shed new light on the financial toll of flooding.
The team of experts now plan to produce analysis for other countries across the world in an attempt to further understand of how climate change is likely to affect the risk of flooding globally.
Co-author Dr Oliver Wing, also of the University of Bristol, said: ‘This study, which harnesses new data and the very latest modelling techniques… has given a new level of insight into the impact of climate change on flooding in future.
‘The modelling provides clear evidence that flood risk needs to be a bigger international priority and that current governance doesn’t go far enough.
‘While the majority of the nation’s future flood risk already exists today, it is strongly in the UK’s interest to exercise leadership in global carbon emission reduction efforts, both by example and as part of global diplomatic initiatives.’
The study has been published in the journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Science.
GLACIERS AND ICE SHEETS MELTING WOULD HAVE A ‘DRAMATIC IMPACT’ ON GLOBAL SEA LEVELS
Global sea levels could rise as much as 10ft (3 metres) if the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica collapses.
Sea level rises threaten cities from Shanghai to London, to low-lying swathes of Florida or Bangladesh, and to entire nations such as the Maldives.
In the UK, for instance, a rise of 6.7ft (2 metres) or more may cause areas such as Hull, Peterborough, Portsmouth and parts of east London and the Thames Estuary at risk of becoming submerged.
The collapse of the glacier, which could begin with decades, could also submerge major cities such as New York and Sydney.
Parts of New Orleans, Houston and Miami in the south on the US would also be particularly hard hit.
A 2014 study looked by the union of concerned scientists looked at 52 sea level indicators in communities across the US.
It found tidal flooding will dramatically increase in many East and Gulf Coast locations, based on a conservative estimate of predicted sea level increases based on current data.
The results showed that most of these communities will experience a steep increase in the number and severity of tidal flooding events over the coming decades.
By 2030, more than half of the 52 communities studied are projected to experience, on average, at least 24 tidal floods per year in exposed areas, assuming moderate sea level rise projections. Twenty of these communities could see a tripling or more in tidal flooding events.
The mid-Atlantic coast is expected to see some of the greatest increases in flood frequency. Places such as Annapolis, Maryland and Washington, DC can expect more than 150 tidal floods a year, and several locations in New Jersey could see 80 tidal floods or more.
In the UK, a two metre (6.5 ft) rise by 2040 would see large parts of Kent almost completely submerged, according to the results of a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in November 2016.
Areas on the south coast like Portsmouth, as well as Cambridge and Peterborough would also be heavily affected.
Cities and towns around the Humber estuary, such as Hull, Scunthorpe and Grimsby would also experience intense flooding.