Boris Johnson: COP26 a ‘decisive shift’ in climate change battle

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Data published on the day the COP26 climate change summit began shows sea levels have risen to a new high, while the past seven years will be the warmest on record. The World Meteorological Organisation’s provisional report, which combines data from multiple UN agencies, meteorological service and scientific experts, paints a very worrying picture. The findings show between 2013 and 2021, the rise in sea level has doubled compared with the rise from 1993 to 2002. Due to the loss of ice mass from glaciers and ice sheets, there have been rises of 4.4 millimetres each year in the last eight years, and it continues to rise.

Parts of the world saw record rainfall and severe flooding, while other areas witnessed significant drought.

As sea levels rise, some of the world’s coastal residents are disproportionately vulnerable.

Particularly close to home, this affects much of England.

Parts of England, Wales and southern Ireland are sinking into the ground, while Scotland is rising.

Since the last Ice Age, enormous sheets of ice have been removed from the north of Britain.

The Earth’s crust, which is not completely rigid, responds to weight being added, or removed, by sinking or rising.

The process of returning to pre-Ice Age levels is called isostatic rebound.

However, this does not happen overnight. It takes thousands of years.

Scandinavia and Scotland were submerged under more than 1,000 feet of ice during the Ice Ages, with uplift fastest in parts of the northern Baltic.

Here in the UK, the process is fastest in northeastern Scotland, where some beaches remarkably exist a few metres above the current sea level.

Much like when pressing down on a sponge — once-raised areas begin to sink as the areas which took the initial force return to their original shape.

Parts of southern England and the southern Baltic are now sinking into the ground.

A study published in Natural Climate Change earlier this year found coastal inhabitants are typically experiencing a sea level rise rate three to four times higher than the global average.

The study’s lead author, Robert Nicholls of the University of East Anglia’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, told National Geographic: “We are talking about not a forecast; we are saying this is happening today.

“And it’s quite significant.”

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A separate study from the University of Durham in 2009 found that parts of England will sink by up to five centimetres over the next century, adding between 10 to 33 percent on sea level rises.

However, with the recent confirmation that sea levels are rising faster than ever, this figure could be even higher.

Scotland, on the other hand, could see rises of up to 10 cm over the next century. A Telegraph report from 2009 said this could “offset the effects of sea level rise caused by global warming.”

Professor Ian Shennan, who led the study, said: “Subsidence and rising sea levels will have implications for habitats, and will require action to manage resorts, industrial sites, ports, beaches, salt marshes and wetlands, wildlife and bird migrations.”

From Humberside, heading clockwise around the British coastline until South Wales, land is sinking.

Mid-Wales and North Yorkshire are experiencing little change.

North Wales, parts of the north west of England, Tyne and Wear, and the entirety of Scotland besides the Shetland Islands are rising.

Much of the rise and fall is beyond human control. But, in addition to the natural processes, human activities can play a part, according to National Geographic.

These include groundwater withdrawals, oil and gas extraction, sand mining and the construction of flood barriers.

Groundwater removal in particular can cause the land to sink faster than it would through isostatic rebound alone, because it causes sediments in aquifers to compact together and the land above it to sink.

This was particularly notable in Shanghai, where mitigation efforts are now in place.

Likewise, parts of Tokyo sank more than 13 feet during the 20th Century. The city has all-but eliminated subsidence now, as a result of strict water-pumping rules.

Oceanographer and coastal engineer Arnoldo Valle-Levinson told National Geographic: “Every locality needs to understand its situation.”

The study, he said, offers “a nice way of reminding coastal municipalities that it’s not only climate-induced sea level rise that they should pay attention to.”

Mr Nicholls agreed, stressing subsidence mitigation needs to be considered in the same way as climate mitigation.

He finished: “It’s not ‘do one or the other’ — it’s ‘do both’.”

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