climate change

Institute delivers stark sea level rise warning to governments


Tidal flooding in Miami during a king tide. The risk of tidal flooding increases with sea-level rise. Photo credit: B137 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia.

By Anders Lorenzen

In a new report, the London-based Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) has delivered the stark warning to global governments that they must begin to prepare for sea-level rise of three metres by 2100.

The report underlines that rising sea levels present society with a significant shift in one of the most fundamental of baselines that we have been taking for granted – the height of our high tides. 

The type of rises we’re talking about will have vast direct impacts on coastal communities who are likely to experience more regular flooding of their homes and businesses, but also indirect consequences for the rest of society as critical infrastructures, such as roads, hospitals and power generation will also be hugely impacted.

The report landed as the UK counties of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire are experiencing unprecedented floods from extreme rainfall, which is having a huge effect on infrastructure, homes and local businesses.

The IMechE report points out that a large portion of the infrastructure is located on coasts, including power stations, oil refineries, gas processing plants, pharmaceuticals manufacturing and food processing plants as well as water and wastewater plants. Needless to say, flooding at these facilities was would be catastrophic and bring about a host of other environmental problems, such as those we saw with the flooding during Hurricane Harvey in Texas in the US in 2017, which hit oil refineries and chemical factories. IMechE says that the supply of energy, food, medicines, goods and services are also a huge risk.

The authors of the report argue that there is little evidence that owners and operators of these assets are taking enough necessary action and making enough investment to mitigate these huge risks, implement adaptations and build resilience. 

Report author and Fellow of the IMechE Dr Tim Fox said: “There is emerging evidence that sea-levels could rise further and more rapidly than the most recent predictions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In light of this, it is essential that governments and the engineering profession consider this when designing and implementing national policies and strategies for adaptation to future coastal flooding”.

He pointed out that infrastructure projects are often in place for 50 or 100 years, making it even more crucial that the right level of action is taken, adding that: “When we are thinking about projects this important to businesses and communities worldwide and the potential for how sea-levels might change in that time, the pressing case for changing our thinking and our approach becomes clear.”

The report made it clear that there a certain things governments can do immediately, such as officially acknowledgement that  the potential of these sea level rises, ensuring that policy and strategy include consideration of industrial infrastructure and urgently set up industry task forces to work with the Professional Engineering Institutions to better define adaptive approaches to future fluvial, pluvial and sea-level related coastal flooding events.


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