IMechE calls on UK government to act on sea level rise

Houses built on weak clay soil slide down to the sea in Odessa, Ukraine. Photo credit: Getty Images

According to a new report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), governments around the world should prepare for a minimum sea level rise of 1 m this century and plan on a maximum of up to 3 m.

The IMechE calls on the UK government to “convene a task force to include the UK’s environment agencies, the Health and Safety Executive, DEFRA [Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs], BEIS [Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy], MHCLG [Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government] and industry expert representatives, to take ownership of the industrial resilience planning for future sea level induced coastal flooding”.

Rising sea levels will significantly affect the height of high tide, which will have huge effects on coastal communities. These effects include more regular flooding of businesses and homes, and the rest of society will face challenges regarding critical infrastructure, such as roads, hospitals, and power generation.

According to the IMechE press release about the report, a large amount of infrastructure is located on the coast or on tidal estuaries, “including power stations, oil refineries, gas processing plants, pharmaceuticals manufacturing, and food processing plants as well as water and wastewater plants”.

Coastal flooding at these facilities threatens the supplies of energy, food, medicines, goods, and services.

According to the IMechE report, there is scant evidence that owners and operators of these critically important facilities are aware of the extent of the future coastal flooding threat or that they are investing in adaptations or building resilience.

Author of the report and IMechE fellow 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.

“Engineered structures, devices and systems – particularly larger projects like bridges, roads or rail lines – can often be in service for 50–100 years. 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.”