New research shows that some of Wales’ major coastal towns and cities could be underwater in the next 100 years.
Rising sea levels could see many of the nation’s largest urban areas wiped out within a century, climate experts have warned.
According to new data published by Climate Central, a leading consortium of environmental scientists and journalists, global warming could cause sea levels to rise by at least 6m – even with serious reductions in pollution.
Explore: How Wales would look if sea levels rose by 6m
The impact on Wales could be potentially devastating, with vast swathes of Newport, Barry, Llanelli, Neath and Cardiff all facing submersion as tides across the UK rise.
Due to global temperature increases – which are expected to rise by 2-4C by 2100 – environmental scientists warn that tidelines to rise by 4-6m in the next century – and by 7-11m if we continue a ‘business as usual’ approach to carbon emissions.
More than half of us live on the coast
Already the rate of coastal erosion along Wales’ southern and western coastlines is a major cause for concern – with many communities facing the prospect of losing their properties to the sea within the next 50 years.
More than 60% of the Welsh population currently live on the coast, and the advance of the sea may threaten the homes and livelihoods of more than 220, 000 households as they become increasingly susceptible to the risks of flooding and coastal erosion.
Forecast of Cardiff in 2100 if sea levels rise by 5 metres, based on data collected by environmental consortium Climate Central.
Much of the Welsh coast lies less than one metre above current sea level. When rising sea levels are coupled with storm surges the risk of flooding may increase ten-fold by 2090.
And figures published by Natural Resources Wales – a Welsh Government body – show that at least 2, 126 homes on the coast could be lost completely as a result of erosion by 2100 – based on conservative estimates.
Debate is raging in the scientific community over how long it will take for the impacts of rising sea levels to take hold, but the general consensus is that seismic changes will begin to take place within the next 100-200 years.
Communities will become vulnerable
Professor Ian Hall, head of earth and oceanic sciences at Cardiff University, said that even if the UK commits to drastic reductions in carbon emissions, relocation and the abandonment of Welsh coastal areas may be an “inevitable” consequence.
“If we carry on our ‘business as usual’ approach to greenhouse emissions, causing a temperature rise of around 3-4 °C by 2100, sea levels at this point may only be 1m higher, but we will have ‘locked in’ about 6-10m of further rise, so that ultimately there would be around 7-11m of sea level rise at some point in the future post 2100, ” he said.
“It is clear that as the rate and total amount of sea level rise increases in the coming years the impact of this change will be increasingly felt.
“Our coastlines and the communities living on them will become increasingly vulnerable.
“This will drive difficult decisions about the cost of protection versus managed retreat and abandonment.
“In Wales, adapting to future sea levels will require a combination of increased flood protection for certain high value coastal assets but an acceptance that abandonment and relocation is inevitable for some.”
Increase in severe storm surges
The cost of flooding in Wales has already reached a staggering £200m in damages every year, with over 220, 000 properties considered to be at risk of inland and coastal flooding.
Of these 65, 000 are currently believed to be at serious risk, but this figure is expected to skyrocket to 115, 000 within the next two decades as a result of changing climate.
As the melting of the polar icecaps causes water levels across the world to rise, South Wales will also face the added threat of more severe storm surges.
Experts predict that as seas rise, the size and power of extreme waves will also swell in the region, leading to a rapid increase in the rate of land retreat.
On average it is estimated that the Welsh coastline is being eroded at a rate of 20-67m every 100 years, but the speed at which this happens could triple.
Plummeting house prices
For villages like Fairbourne in Gwynedd, and Newton, Porthcawl, the rate of coastal erosion has already caused drastic slumps in property values, with many residents unable to take out mortgages because lenders are not prepared to take the risk.
Powerless to prevent the rapid retreat of the coast, house prices in Fairbourne have dipped by 40% on average, as the village prepares to lose over 400 homes within the next 35 years.
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But rising sea levels may see this crisis replicated along the Welsh coastline, as high tide lines move further up the shore towards developed residential areas.
According to a report compiled by the Welsh Assembly in 2012, the greatest threat posed to the country by climate change is inland and coastal flooding, both of which will continue to grow in severity throughout the century as much of the coastline retreats.
While local authorities are attempting to protect many of Wales’ favourite tourist spots by constructing sea walls and other coastal defences, rising sea levels may make these efforts redundant.
Rising sea levels
Currently sea defences, safeguarding over £8bn in assets and property, protect 28% of the Welsh coastline. But the predicted sea level rise of 4-6m may mean that such projects become useless against the elements.
Even with the most optimistic targets set by international organisations including the UN and the G20, global temperatures are expected to increase by at least 2C this century.
Very high tide Penarth seafront.
According to scientists, only extreme carbon cutbacks can hope to save much of the Welsh capital from being submerged.
“The good news is we can still act to reduce the impacts of future climate change, ” said Professor Hall.