Rising sea levels would flood major towns

As global leaders discuss tackling climate change at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow, a map shows how rising sea levels could change the shape of Devon’s coastlines forever.

Edward Oldfield www.devonlive.com

The map produced by Climate Central using the latest sea level predictions shows the land which would be below the annual flood level in 2050.

The projections do not take into coast and river defences, which are designed to hold back the waters to protect homes and businesses.

The map shows how an expected increase in the sea level of up to 29cm (11 inches) over the next 30 years could see unprotected land underwater from flooding. It shows how the sea could inundate low-lying coastal areas, and the vital importance of defences to protect homes and businesses.

Low-lying areas of the Devon coast are particularly at risk from tidal flooding, and an increase in storms from climate change could also speed up erosion. Changing weather patterns are seeing more rainfall, which increases the flood risk from rivers.

Coastal features including Northam Burrows near Bideford, and Dawlish Warren, could be at risk from extreme weather, as both appear below the predicted annual flood level for 2050.

The government is funding a series of schemes across Devon as part of a new £5.2billion six-year programme of investment in flood and coastal defences announced in July to protect the most at-risk properties, doubling the amount spent in the previous six years.

Key flood defence schemes include a completed £32million scheme alongside the River Exe at Exeter, and plans for a flood wall along the seafront at Paignton and Preston on the south Devon coast. The effect of storms has already been widely seen, including a major breach of the railway line at Dawlish in 2014, and the main A379 road partly washed away at Slapton in 2018.

The government has set out a strategy to reach Net Zero by 2050 – the point when the output of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming like carbon dioxide is reduced and equals the measures to take them out of the atmosphere.

Around Devon, the Climate Centre map shows that along the coast and estuaries, the land including roads and beaches would be below the 2050 annual flood level.

The map uses the latest predictions of global future sea levels agreed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change, released in August.

Totnes

The map shows land alongside the River Dart which would be below the annual flood level by 2050.

Slapton

The red area shows the land forecast to be below the annual flood level in 2050, including the stretch of the A379 coast road.

Dawlish and Exmouth

The red area includes most of Dawlish Warren, a sandy headland in the mouth of the River Exe, where a £14million beach management scheme to strengthen defences has been carried out. The map also shows the parts of Exmouth at risk from flooding, which have been protected by a recent £12million tidal defence scheme.

Exeter

Low-lying land alongside the River Exe and estuary is at risk, as is land alongside the River Clyst. Recent flood defence works have taken place to protect homes and businesses from river flooding at Exeter and Clyst St Mary. A tidal defence scheme is in development for Topsham, and repairs planned at Bowling Green Marsh.

Newton Abbot

Large areas of land alongside the River Teign are forecast to be at risk from flooding, including Newton Abbot racecourse.

Torquay

Torquay seafront already sees flooding at some high tides, particularly the low-lying land in front of Torre Abbey, and parts including Princess Gardens are on land reclaimed from the sea.

Paignton

Plans are being drawn up for a new sea wall to protect the low-lying town centre from predicted flooding due to rising sea levels.

Teignmouth

Sitting at the mouth of the River Teign, stretches of the estuaryside are predicted to be below the annual flood level by 2050.

Budleigh Salterton

Land alongside the River Otter experiences flooding, and a £15million project is underway to restore the flood plain, allowing the land to flood naturally.

Barnstaple and Bideford

The estuaries of the Taw and Torridge feature on the map where land is predicted to be below the 2050 annual flood level, including Northam Burrows, a sandy headland in the mouth of the estuary. A tidal flood scheme is in development at Bideford, and a defence scheme is being drawn up at Westward Ho!

Dartmouth

The River Dart is forecast to see riverside land below the annual flood level, including parts of the town centre nearest the water.

What is Cop26 Glasgow all about?

The UK Environment Agency says the impact of global warming and climate change is expected to result in the sea level rising by up to 29cm around the UK over the next 30 years, as polar ice melts and seas expand. It warns if temperatures rise by 2 degrees C, the rise would be 45cm (18 inches) by the 2080s, or 78cm (31 inches) if the world heats up by more.

Aerial photo of Dawlish Warren at the mouth of the Exe Estuary, opposite Exmouth

Aerial photo of Dawlish Warren at the mouth of the Exe Estuary, opposite Exmouth (Image: Environment Agency)

120 world leaders have gathered in Glasgow for the Cop26 summit , with the goal reducing greenhouse gases to limit global warming to 1.5C, or at worst 2C, by 2100. But there is a warning that we are on track for 2.7C which the UN says would result in “climate catastrophe”.

In Glasgow, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Cop26 summit the world’s “addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink”. Pointing to melting glaciers, relentless extreme weather events, sea level rise and overheating oceans, he warned: “We are digging our own graves”.

Prime minister Boris Johnson warned of the dangers of rising temperatures, jeopardising food supplies for hundreds of millions of people, more wildfires and eventually the loss of whole cities such as Miami, Alexandria and Shanghai. “The longer we fail to act and the worse it gets and the higher the price when we are forced by catastrophe to act,” he said.

What does the Environment Agency say about climate change?

The Environment Agency says that adaptation – becoming resilient to the already inevitable effects of climate change – is just as important as actions to cut greenhouse gases.

It is a case of “adapt or die”, the Agency’s chairwoman Emma Howard Boyd said, warning that deadly events such as the flooding in Germany this summer would hit here if the country did not make itself resilient to the more violent weather the climate emergency was bringing.

In a report to the Government, the EA said climate change would exacerbate the pressure on England’s water environment, which is suffering from problems such as pollution and increased water demand, and make it harder to ensure clean and plentiful water.

The agency alone cannot protect everyone from increasing flood and coastal risks, and traditional flood defences will not be able to prevent all flooding and coastal erosion, the report said.

There will be more and worse environmental incidents, such as flooding, water shortages and pollution, regulation is not ready for climate change and the natural world cannot adapt as fast as the climate is changing, the EA said.

What is the government doing to build flood defences?

In July 2021, six months after the nation was battered by Storm Christoph, environment secretary George Eustice announced £5.2 billion of investment in a new six-year flood and coastal defence investment programme in England from for 2021 to 2027.

This will fund around 2,000 new defence schemes to better protect 336,000 properties. The investment is double the £2.6billion of the first six-year programme which ended in 2021, protecting more than 300,000 homes and businesses.

The programme includes 2,000 new defence projects, as well as maintaining existing schemes, and in total is predicted to avoid around £32billion of economic damage.

The report says: “The risks from flooding and coastal erosion are significant and continue to grow.”

It adds: “Flooding and coastal erosion can be devastating. As well as the potential for loss of life and damage to property, they can impact our businesses and livelihoods, and affect our health and wellbeing. The risks we face are significant and continue to grow.

“Climate change is leading to rising sea levels and warmer and wetter winters, together with an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme events such as heavy rainfall, coastal erosion and landslips.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.