With sea levels rising, Committee on Climate Change urges major overhaul of government's management of coastal flooding and erosion
Hundreds of thousands of properties in England are in danger from coastal flooding and erosion, the UK's independent climate change watchdog has warned.
A policy overhaul is urgently needed to mitigate damages from Britain's crumbling coastlines, which already average over £260m per year, according to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).
This figure is set to rise sharply in the coming years, the CCC warns in a new report released today, which accuses the government of not adequately informing the UK public about the risks posed by coastal erosion or how the threat is likely to increase in future as the climate changes.
Today 520,000 properties in England, including 370,000 homes, are located in areas at risk from coastal flooding, while 8,900 properties are in areas under threat of being lost through coastal erosion, the report estimates.
But climate change will "almost certainly" cause sea levels around the UK to rise by one metre or more in future, the CCC said, adding that this could potentially happen by as soon as the end of the century.
As a result, the number of homes and businesses under threat is likely to increase significantly over the coming decades. The CCC estimates that by the 2080s up to 1.5 million properties in England, including 1.2 million homes, may be located in areas at "significant level of flood risk" and over 100,000 properties could be in areas of severe coastal erosion.
As well as a significant to people's homes and businesses, the change in coastal conditions is also set to pose major disruption to England's infrastructure. Some 1,600km of major roads, 650km of railway lines, 92 railway stations and 55 historical waste landfill sites could be under threat from coastal flooding or erosion by 2100, the CCC added.
All in all, it means some coastal communities are "unlikely to be viable in their current form", said the report, in particular highlighting coastlines in East Yorkshire, East Anglia and parts of the south coast as under threat.
The report estimated that implementing current policies to protect England's coastline could cost between £18bn-£30bn depending on the rate of climate change.
Ambitious efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the effect of climate change could reduce the risk for up to half a million people in England by 2100, the report states, but the threat posed by harmful coastal flooding and erosion "cannot be eliminated altogether".
Despite the increasing threat, however, the CCC said the problem was "not being confronted with the required urgency or openness".
It placed the blame in part on a complex patchwork of coastal management in England which is currently carried out by a variety of organisations with different responsibilities, meaning areas most under threat are not getting the attention they require.
The report therefore calls for a complete overhaul of the UK's approach to flood and coastal management, recommending better disclosure to the public of the risks, the development of local long-term strategies, and long-term funding and investment made available by the government.
Professor Jim Hall, the CCC Adaptation Committee's expert on flooding and coastal erosion, said the current approach to protecting the English coastline was "not fit for purpose".
"It's time people woke up to the very real challenges ahead," he said in a statement. "As sea levels rise and flooding and erosion get worse, we have assessed that current plans for around 150 kilometres, or 90 miles, of the coastline are not cost-beneficial to implement. The government and local authorities need to talk honestly with those affected about the difficult choices they face. Climate change is not going away: action is needed now to improve the way England's coasts are managed today and in the future, to reduce the polluting emissions which cause climate change, and to prepare seaside communities for the realities of a warming world."
It is not the first time the UK's management of climate risk has come under the spotlight. Last year, MPs on Parliament's Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee also called for an overhaul of England's "fragmented, inefficient and ineffective" flood risk management approach.
Responding to the CCC's report today, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it had already committed £1.2bn of investment in coastal erosion and sea flooding projects over the next six years to better protect an estimated 170,000 homes.
"The Environment Secretary has been very clear - we will take the action required to ensure our country is resilient and prepared for the challenges the changing climate brings," a Defra statement said. "We welcome the Committee's report which will inform our work to tackle increasing flood and coastal erosion risks, ahead of the publication of our government Policy Statement on flooding and coastal erosion next year."
The CCC's findings echo those of the National Infrastructure Commission's (NIC) report in July. That reported also highlighted the growing threat from flooding and called on the government to set out a strategy and funding for ensuring communities are resilient.
In a statement today, the NIC welcomed the CCC's findings, which it said underlined the need for a clear government-led strategy for building resilience to climate change-induced flooding and coastal erosion.
"We want to see ministers take up these measures and also ensure that all new development, including along our coastline, is resilient enough to ensure that this risk doesn't increase in the future," the NIC said.
Coming less than three weeks after the IPCC's sobering report on the challenge of keeping global temperature increases within 1.5C of warming, the scale of damage climate change is set to wreak should be fresh in ministers' minds. Today's warning from the CCC, which makes clear the costs of climate change are already being felt on England's coastline, now brings that message much closer to home.
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