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.

 
 
 
 

Brexit is an opportunity for cities to take back control

Leeds Town Hall. Image: Getty.

The Labour leader of Leeds City Council on the future of Britain’s cities.

As the negotiations about the shape of the UK’s exit from the EU continue, Britain’s most economically powerful cities outside London are arguing that the UK can be made stronger for Brexit – by allowing cities to “take back control” of service provision though new powers and freedoms

Core Cites UK, the representative voice of the cities at the centre of the ten largest economic areas outside London, has just launched an updated version of our green paper, ‘Invest Reform Trust’. The document calls for radical but deliverable proposals to allow cities to prepare for Brexit by boosting their productivity, and helping to rebalance the economy by supporting inclusive economic growth across the UK.

Despite representing areas responsible for a quarter of the UK’s economy and nearly a third of exports, city leaders have played little part in the development of the government’s approach to Brexit. Cities want a dialogue with the government on their Brexit plans and a new settlement which sees power passing from central government to local communities.

To help us deliver a Brexit that works for the UK’s cities, we are opening a dialogue with the EU Commission’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier to share our views of the Brexit process and what our cities want to achieve.

Most of the changes the Core Cities want to see can already be delivered by the UK. To address the fact that the productivity of UK cities lags behind competitors, we need to think differently and begin to address the structural problems in our economy before Brexit.

International evidence shows that cities which have the most control over taxes raised in their area tend to be the most productive.  The UK is significantly out of step with international competitors in the power given to cities and we are one of the most centralised countries in the world.  


Boosting the productivity of the UK’s Core Cities to the UK national average would increase the country’s national income by £70-£90bn a year. This would be a critical boost to the UK’s post-Brexit economic success.

Our green paper is clear that one-size fits all policy solutions simply can’t deal with the complexities of 21st century Britain. We need a place-based approach that looks at challenges and solutions in a different way, focused on the particular needs of local communities and local economies.

For example, our Core Cities face levels of unemployment higher than the national average, but also face shortages of skilled workers.  We need a more localised approach to skills, education and employment support with greater involvement from local democratic and business leaderships to deliver the skills to support growth in each area.

The UK will only make a success of Brexit if we are able to increase our international trade. Evidence shows city to city networks play an important role in boosting international trade.  The green paper calls for a new partnership with the Department of International trade to develop an Urban Trade programme across the UK’s cities and give cities more of a role in international trade missions.

To deliver economic growth that includes all areas of the UK, we also need to invest in our infrastructure. Not just our physical infrastructure of roads, rail telecommunications and so forth, but also our health, education and care infrastructure, ensuring that we are able to unlock the potential of our core assets, our people.

Whether you think that Brexit is a positive or a negative thing for the UK, it is clear that the process will be a challenging one.  Cities have a key role to play in delivering a good Brexit: one that sees local communities empowered and economic prosperity across all areas of the UK.

Cllr Judith Blake is leader of Leeds City Council.