Residents of Britain’s coast are not being warned of the serious risks they face from rising sea levels, a global expert has told Sky News.
Professor Jim Hall, a member of the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology and internationally recognized for his work on climate risks, said some coastal communities will disappear in the coming decades.
But little help is being given to existing owners to move inland, and people buying properties are unaware of their financial gamble.
He said it would be too costly to hold back the sea along the entire coastline and that the government should instead have an “honest conversation” with coastal communities.
“I don’t think people really recognize how things are going to change in the future,” he said.
“The price of coastal property does not reflect the risk people are exposed to.
“Now maybe if people move to the coast for retirement, they’re there for a limited time and that’s a perfectly rational thing to do.
“But we can’t expect coastal properties to be there forever.”
According to the Met Office, sea levels around the UK coast are expected to rise by around 115cm by the end of the century.
But some scientists say the predictions are too conservative and that accelerating rates of melting of mountain glaciers and polar ice caps will lead to much larger increases.
When combined with storm surges, the higher waters will flood inland and undermine cliffs, causing them to collapse.
“200,000 households at risk”
The east and south coasts of England are particularly vulnerable as the rocks are made up of sand, gravel and clay. But low-lying estuaries across the country are also at risk.
According to an analysis by the Tyndall Center at the University of East Anglia, 200,000 properties in England could be vulnerable to sea level rise by 2050.
Yet fewer than 35,000 have been recognized as being at risk by official planning documents.
Many communities facing an uncertain future have yet to be identified, the researchers warned.
Professor Hall said surveyors check Environment Agency flood maps when buying property, but do not have access to detailed information on the risks of accelerated sea level rise. sea and coastal erosion.
He added that the Environment Agency had taken a strategic view of the risk, but engagement with communities was left to overwhelmed local authorities.
Ultimately, it is “the government’s responsibility”, he said.
“These are very emotional questions, that’s understandable. These are a lot of people’s properties, in places they really love.
“So when coastal erosion, coastal flooding and sea level rise hit the press, it becomes very controversial and local MPs get involved.
“Politically it’s very hot to touch and it makes it difficult for the central government to do.”
“My house is shaking”
The Environment Agency said it would maintain and strengthen sea defenses along the coasts of major cities or near key infrastructure, a strategy called “holding the line”.
But the sea will be allowed to invade rural areas with smaller communities.
The village of Happisburgh in Norfolk is one of the most vulnerable in the country. It lost 40 homes in three decades as rising seas cut the gentle cliffs.
When Nicola Bayless’s family bought their home in 2000, they were told it would be safe for 150 years, but the sea has moved so fast they fear it will be gone in 10 years – if it has luck.
“When the sea hits the cliff, the house shakes,” she said. “That’s how I am.”
“It’s the power of the sea. You wouldn’t believe how it can just destroy the cliff. It eats away every time we have a high tide.
“Climate change is happening – you can see it. People are quite blinded inland because they don’t see it every day.”
“We need a plan now”
The council says it has helped some people move, but funding is limited and there is no national plan for climate refugees.
Rob Goodliffe, from Coastal Partnership East, which brings together three local authorities in Norfolk and Suffolk, said the cost of rebuilding further inland can be prohibitive.
“We have to get to a point where we have options, so we don’t just walk into a property and say, ‘I’m sorry, it has to be demolished because it’s going to be lost over. a cliff,'” he said. said.
“Maybe a program where the costs, like the flood risk management program, are shared across the country is a way forward.
“We need to have these conversations now, rather than wait and react. We need to plan for the future.”
The government has worked with insurance companies to make flood cover more affordable for properties near rivers and streams.
But he said coastal erosion is a natural process, so there is no compensation for homeowners.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has allocated £36m over six years to test ways to help a small number of coastal areas transition and adapt to climate change .
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