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.

 
 
 
 

Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.


So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?


And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.