Wednesday 23 October 2019

Coastal homes at risk from 'catastrophic' rise in sea level

Professor Andy Wheeler
Professor Andy Wheeler

Caroline O'Doherty

Coastal communities in Ireland are in the firing line of one of the most frightening impacts of climate change as scientists warn sea levels could rise by a metre before the end of the century.

The devastating prediction by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) would spell catastrophe for the country's main cities and dozens of seaside towns and villages.

Professor Andy Wheeler of the School of Environmental Sciences at University College Cork said while the scenario seemed extreme, it was a very possible outcome if global warming was not tackled.

"It's a solid prediction, based on science. It's not alarmist or provocative. The models that scientists used to predict temperature increase and sea level rise to this point are starting to be borne out and there's no reason to believe they've got it wrong now," he said.

The IPCC report warns that 680 million people living in coastal areas around the world are at risk from rising sea levels and storm surges as polar ice, mountain snow and glaciers begin to melt.

Almost half the population of Ireland live within 5km of the sea and local authorities in Dublin have warned in recent weeks that the sea level in Dublin Bay has risen at twice the global rate in the last 10 years.

Levels rose 6-7mm per year which, combined with stronger and more frequent storm surges, has caused serious flooding in the capital.

Cork city is also suffering severe flooding on a regular basis and is about to embark on major flood protection works.

Prof Wheeler said, however, that flood protection would be ineffective in the scenarios presented in the IPCC report.

"You would see large parts of our main cities under water, massive displacement of people and ultimately little choice but to move the cities inland," he said.

"We tend to think of the IPCC reports as being global but not really relevant to Ireland but this report has great significance for Ireland. This is not just about the Maldives and South Pacific islands, this is about us.

"What's really sobering is that greenhouse gas emissions globally are increasing and we're not really tackling it and time is running out."

Coastal flooding is a key concern of the climate adaptation plans recently adopted by the councils of Dublin city, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and Fingal, and it is also emerging as a prominent feature in many of the plans also being finalised by coastal councils around the country.

But apart from the loss of land, homes, businesses and infrastructure threatened by rising sea levels, the melting ice is having other damaging effects.

The IPCC report warns that as the oceans warm, they are becoming more acidic and unable to support as much fish life as before. Shellfish - of major importance to Ireland's fishing fleet - are particularly vulnerable and are dwindling in numbers.

The report, accepted by 195 IPCC member countries, was compiled by more than 100 scientists from 36 countries, pulling together data from some 7,000 scientific studies and publications.

It is the latest in a series of reports chronicling the impact of carbon emissions on global warming and the consequences of the rising temperatures for the global environment and world's population. Global warming has already reached 1C above pre-industrial levels due to greenhouse gas emissions.

The 2015 Paris Agreement signed by all 195 countries aims at keeping the temperature rise to less than 2C, warning that even then there will still be serious consequences because of rising seas and extreme and unpredictable weather.

However, world leaders meeting at emergency summit in New York this week were warned we are still on course for a 3-4C rise.

Irish Independent

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