Climate change is causing fiercer storms and fuelling sea level rise, exacerbating coastal erosion. And the pace of that change has taken Hemsby residents by surprise. What experts told Jordan would take a century is close to happening in 14 years.
“I came here as a bit of escape, and with no financial worries,” said Jordan. Now, the home he bought for 85,000 pounds($109,000) is “essentially worthless”, he said, and he loses sleep worrying about the future.
Despite the rising threat, Britain is only just beginning to reckon with the huge geological and social changes coming at its coastlines, with authorities and communities having to decide whether relocation or bolstering the shore is the best solution.
AUTHORITIES ‘STUCK BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE’
About one in 10 people around the world live less than 10 metres above sea level, according to the United Nations, and rising seas are a threat to coasts from Bangladesh to the United States, and cities from Shanghai to London.
Ocean levels are likely to rise by up to about one metre this century, driven by melting glaciers and ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, the UN’s panel of climate experts says.
In Britain alone, thousands of people will be forced to leave their homes and move inland in the near future, says the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), an advisory body to the government.
About 8,900 properties in England are threatened by coastal erosion, a number that could increase more than tenfold by 2080, according to a CCC report published in 2018.
In the coming decades, large parts of the coast will undergo the separate but related processes of “managed realignment” – allowing the coastline to advance inland – and “managed retreat” – moving people and properties away from rising seas.
In Hemsby, many residents are reluctant to relocate, at least in the short-term, citing the area’s economic importance as a holiday destination. Tens of thousands of tourists visit each summer for its amusement arcades, theme parks, sand and surf.
Instead, locals in the village of about 2,800 are calling for new sea defences that could buy the community more time.
But solutions and consensus are hard to come by in areas like Hemsby as local authorities – which are responsible for managing coastal erosion risks – are widely under-funded and largely reliant on outdated policy drawn up 25 years ago.