Sinking feeling: experts warn coastal towns should be 'abandoned' due to rising sea levels

David Harding
Waves hit the sea wall in Porthcall, south Wales (REUTERS/Eddie Keogh)

Many coastal towns should be abandoned because of rising sea levels, a group of experts has warned.

Environmental researchers at Harvard University say authorities around the world have to accept the inevitable.

They warn that the impact of climate change is going to mean coastal towns around the world disappearing.

And instead of wasting billions of pounds trying to save them, governments should make a “managed retreat” from many of the towns.

Residents walk through the flooded village of Flushing, Cornwall (REUTERS/Paul Armiger)

“We can do that the hard way, by fighting for every inch and losing lives and dollars in the meantime,” AR Siders, an environmental fellow at Harvard University, said.

“Or we can do it willingly and thoughtfully and . . . re-think the way we live.”

It may sound like a drastic warning, but the Harvard researchers insist that the relocation of coastal communities is no longer a question of if, but when and how for many.

“Retreat is happening,” he told Science magazine.

The study comes after UK authorities warned about the dangers for those living in flood areas, as well as those on the coast (REUTERS/Phil Noble)

“For retreat to work well, it needs to be part of a larger strategy, tailored to local circumstances, to long-term community goals.”

The report backs up research released earlier this summer by Britain’s Environment Agency.

In May, it warned that flooding caused by global warming could result in whole towns being moved away from the coast and rivers to keep people safe.

It made the warning as the government published its long-term strategy for managing the risk of flooding and erosion of the coastline.

The warnings could potentially impact on many people living on the coast or in flood plains in the UK and elsewhere.

It is estimated that around three million people live on the coast in the UK.


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One study released last year estimated that more than five million British homes were at the risk of flooding because of their proximity to rivers, seas or other areas of extreme surface water.

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