How can Europe’s coastal cities cope with rising sea levels?

Barcelona beach. Image: Getty.

The average global sea level has risen by more than 20cm since 1980 – that’s a rate of 0.5mm per month – according to new research from the Basque Centre for Climate Change (BCCC). These are frightening statistics for Europe’s vulnerable coastal cities including Barcelona, Istanbul, Dublin and others. With homes, infrastructure and indeed entire economies at stake, it’s crucial for authorities to understand the extent of the risk these cities are facing – and take steps to manage it. The Conversation

To start with, it’s important to review such claims in detail, as predictions can vary greatly depending on such factors as the warming of the oceans and the melt rate of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. A closer inspection of the BCCC study shows that the authors misinterpreted the data, as the original source offers a much more conservative sea level rise of 20cm since 1880 – a rate of 1.5mm a year. This falls in the same ballpark as estimates by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other recent research, making it a more credible figure.

Next, authorities need to understand the nature of the risk associated with sea level rise. While higher sea levels can mean that the ocean encroaches on developed coastal areas, this isn’t the only – or even the most serious – risk. Sea level rise is an important factor in climate change, which also heightens the risk from coastal storms and floods for European coastal cities.

Stormy seas

Storminess and the intensity, or “magnitude”, of storms – rather than an increase in their frequency – is difficult to predict because of their natural variability. Predictions tend to rely on complex mathematical models for forecasting. In the UK, for example, scientists from the University of Reading and the Meteorological Office found an increase in the number of storms since 1910, in part due to climate change. But the array of models often show a range of results regarding frequency and magnitude from no change at all, to a more rapid increase throughout the 21st century.

In fact, these storms could lead to greater coastal impact and erosion, as they cause a rapid rise in the average level of the sea, compared to that experienced because of long-term sea level rise.

The new normal? Image: hawkflight1066/Flickr/creative commons.

Across Europe, cities, transport infrastructure and major industry are often located in the coastal zone. These coastal assets are vulnerable to the threat posed by sea level change and storminess.

The extreme water level rise associated with storm surges is particularly worrying. A surge associated with a storm in 2005 added 1.5 metres to highest tide across northern Scotland and the Hebrides. And in 2013, a storm in southern England raised water levels at some locations by an additional 5-6 metres.

Building resilience

To protect Europe’s coastal cities from such disasters, the European Environment Agency suggests that authorities should find ways to improve resilience. This means finding ways to adapt to and lessen the impact of climate change, by investing in long-term, preventative measures.

This could mean anything from making improvements to urban planning with key consultation across a range of experts including climate scientists, coastal zone mangers and infrastructure managers, to increasing the number and size of green areas and limiting construction on floodplains.

Bigger buffer needed. Image: diluvienne/Flickr/creative commons.

Specifically, planners need to start moving away from hard engineering solutions such as sea walls and rock armour. Instead, they should consider working with natural processes to increase coastal resilience. For instance, many European coastal areas have extensive wetlands and beach systems, which can provide a natural “buffer” against the impact of sea level rise and intermittent storm surges.


Yet it can be difficult to persuade the inhabitants of coastal zones to have confidence in these “softer” solutions such as beach nourishment and wetland restoration. Education is key here, to explain how these measures can help.

There’s still much progress to be made. Many cities are just beginning to develop and implement strategies to manage the impacts of climate change. These are long-term approaches, not short-term fixes, and as such, it will take time for authorities to gather the necessary political momentum and funds to invest toward mitigating coastal risks. A well-rounded approach which considers natural coastal processes, urban planning and economic vulnerability is crucial to building resilience, and protecting coastal cities from climate change.

Sue Dawson is a reader in physical geography at the University of Dundee.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

How can we stop city breaks killing our cities?

This couple may look happy, but they’re destroying Barcelona. Image: Getty.

Can’t wait to pack your bags and head off on holiday again? It used to be that people would look forward to a long break in summer – but now tourists have got used to regular short breaks through the year. We love to jet off to the world’s glittering cities, even if only for a day or two. The trouble is, binge travelling may be killing the places we visit.

You may even have seen some “tourists go home” graffiti on your last trip, and it’s not hard to see why. Barcelona is a good example of how a city can groan under the weight of its popularity. It now has the busiest cruise port, and the second fastest growing airport in Europe. Walking through the Barcelona streets at peak season (which now never seems to end) flings you into a relentless stream of tourists. They fill the city’s hot spots in search of “authentic” tapas and sangria, and a bit of culture under the sun. The mayor has echoed residents’ concerns over the impact of tourism; a strategic plan has been put in place.

It is true though, that cities tend to start managing the impact of tourism only when it is already too late. It creeps up on them. Unlike visitors to purpose-built beach destinations and national parks, city-break tourists use the same infrastructure as the locals: existing systems start slowly to stretch at the seams. Business travellers, stag parties and museum visitors will all use existing leisure facilities.

‘Meet the friendly locals’, they said. Image: Sterling Ely/Flickrcreative commons.

Barcelona may only be the 59th largest city in the world, but it is the 12th most popular with international visitors. Compared to London or Paris, it is small, and tourism has spiked sharply since the 1992 Olympics rather than grown steadily as in other European favourites like Rome.

Growth is relentless. The UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) even speaks about tourism as a right for all citizens, and citizens are increasingly exercising that right: from 1bn international travellers today, we will grow to 1.8bn by 2030, according to UNWTO forecasts.

Faced with this gathering storm, just who is tourism supposed to benefit? Travellers, cities, residents or the tourism industry?

Market forces

Managing the impact of tourism starts by changing the way destinations market themselves: once the tourists arrive, it’s too late. Tourism authorities need to understand that they are accountable to the city, not to the tourism industry. When the city of Barcelona commissioned the University of Surrey to look into how it might best promote sustainable development, we found a series of techniques which have been incorporated, at least in part, into the city’s 2020 Tourism Strategy.

In the simplest terms, the trick is to cajole tourists into city breaks which are far less of a burden on the urban infrastructure. In other words, normalising the consumption of sustainable tourism products and services. In Copenhagen, 70 per cent of the hotels are certified as sustainable and the municipal authority demands sustainability from its suppliers.

Higher than the sun. A primal scream from the world’s cities? Image: Josep Tomàs/Flickr/creative commons.

Destinations must also be accountable for the transport impact of their visitors. The marketing department might prefer a Japanese tourist to Barcelona because on average they will spend €40 more than a French tourist – according to unpublished data from the Barcelona Tourist Board – but the carbon footprint we collectively pay for is not taken into account.

Crucially, for the kind of city breaks we might enjoy in Barcelona, most of the carbon footprint from your holiday is from your transport. Short breaks therefore pollute more per night, and so destinations ought to be fighting tooth and nail to get you to stay longer. It seems like a win for tourists too: a few extra days in the Spanish sun, a more relaxing break, and all accompanied by the warm glow of self-satisfaction and a gold star for sustainability.


Destinations can also target customers that behave the most like locals. Japanese first-time visitors to Barcelona will crowd the Sagrada Familia cathedral, while most French tourists are repeat visitors that will spread out to lesser-known parts of the city. Reducing seasonality by emphasising activities that can be done in winter or at less crowded times, and geographically spreading tourism by improving less popular areas and communicating their particular charms can also help reduce pressure on hot spots, much like Amsterdam is doing.

Turnover is vanity, and profit margins are sanity. No city should smugly crow about the sheer volume of visitors through its gates. If tourism is here to stay, then the least cities can do is to sell products that will have the greatest benefit for society. Whether it’s Barcelona, Berlin, Bologna or Bognor, there should be a focus on locally and ethically produced products and services which residents are proud to sell. Tourist boards should work with small businesses that offer creative and original things to do and places to stay, adding breadth to the city’s offering.

The ConversationWhether Barcelona will introduce these ideas will depend on the bravery of politicians and buy-in from the powerful businesses which are happily making short-term profits at the expense of residents and the planet. It is possible to do things differently, and for everyone to benefit more. It may be that the tipping point lies in the age-old mechanics of supply and demand: bear that in mind next time you’re booking a quick city break that looks like it’s only adding to the problem.

Xavier Font is professor of marketing at the University of Surrey.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.