Tuesday, 8 May 2012

40% of English Coastline Faces Erosion Risk

Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, wrote a fascinating feature article in the weekend Financial Times about the cost of climate change adaptation.  Noting that 1,800 km of the 4,500 km English coast is at risk of erosion, Thurley concedes that the government simply can't afford to save every home and village and that some "will succumb to natural processes and be swept away."

But not all of them.  In Walberswick, Suffolk, villagers have formed a trust and plan to raise money to invest in sea defences.  In Bawdsey, a charitable trust, local landowners and the council contributed to the development of new houses and used the resulting profits to build a sea barrier to save a historic 19th-century gun platform.  Meanwhile, in Dorset, the Landmark Trust spent £889,000 to move Clavell Tower 25 metres inland.  These are just a few of the inspiring cases of communities coming together in support of climate change adaptation.

To be fair, Dr. Thurley doesn't call it "climate change adaptation".  In fact, he doesn't use phrases like "climate change" or "adaptation" or "global warming" anywhere in his entire 800-word article. This is a surprising omission, when both the UK's Environment Agency and the English Heritage website acknowledge the impact of rising sea levels and more intense storms on the English coast.  While some coastal erosion is due to the fact that England is sinking as Scotland continues its post-Ice Age rebound, climate change deserves much of the blame for what is to come.

And while some degree of warming is now locked in - along with the inevitable impacts, it is still not too late to stave off the worst a changing climate holds in store.  The 2006 Stern Review and a host of other studies show that it is far more cost effective to mitigate climate change - reduce emissions - than it is to simply continue business as usual an then pay to cope with the consequences.

There is a tremendous amount we can accomplish when we have the will.  We can reduce energy consumption, switch to greener sources of energy and less carbon-intensive agricultural practices, and pursue a host of other opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions where we live, work, and play.  As Dr. Thurley notes at the end of his article, "I see these measures as inspirational...This is a shift...to the welcome idea that individuals and communities can determine their own destiny."