Coastal flooding and erosion, and adaptation to climate change: Interim Report Contents

1The risks and challenge of sea-level rise

The scale of the problem

4.The risks and challenge of sea-level rise are becoming increasingly significant. The 2018 UK Climate Projections indicate: “Sea levels are projected to rise under all [greenhouse gas] emission scenarios”.1 According to the Environment Agency’s 2018 “Climate change impacts and adaptation” report, extreme high sea levels with a 1 per cent per year chance of occurring on the coastline of the English Channel in 1990, are projected to increase to a 10 per cent per year chance by 2100, but the frequency could increase to every twenty days on average in some scenarios.2 It concluded that “continuing to maintain all the current coastal flood defences over the next 100 years is unsustainable, as the numbers of defences highly vulnerable to failure will increase by around 20 [per cent] under 0.5 metres local sea level rise”.3 According to the Environment Agency, “this means that some currently defended land may not be defended in the future”.4 Around 5,000 properties could be affected over the next 20 years without interventions to defend them.5

5.For people living in coastal areas, coastal flooding can represent a serious risk to life, homes and wellbeing. Coastal flood risk was second only to pandemic flu in the Government’s 2017 National Risk Register Of Civil Emergencies, in part because of the high density of population and economic activity in coastal areas and the potential speed and extent of coastal flood events.6 In total in England, 1.8 million homes are at risk of coastal flooding and erosion.7

6.The CCC estimated that the annual direct economic damages from coastal flooding and erosion exceeds £260 million.8 Between £120 to £150 billion worth of assets are estimated to be at risk from coastal flooding, including roads, railway stations, ports, schools, care homes, power stations and landfill sites.9 This includes critical national infrastructure such as the 28 per cent of UK oil refining capacity located in the Humber flood plain, or the Bacton Gas Terminal in Norfolk that handles 30 per cent of the UK’s gas supply.10

7.Farmland, important natural habitats and sites of historical and cultural value are also threatened, and flooding can also have wider environmental consequences. For example, 1,300 historic coastal landfill sites are at risk, which, if breached, could be a risk to bathing waters, wildlife and coastal habitats.11 The Environment Agency expected that “over 3,000 hectares of internationally protected inter-tidal habitat” would be lost due to “coastal squeeze” between now and 2100, as sea defences prevent coastal habitats from migrating inland.12

Managing the risk - Shoreline Management Plans

8.DEFRA is responsible for policy on flooding and coastal erosion, with most of its delivery functions, including major capital projects, delegated to the Environment Agency. The strategy for managing individual sections of the coastline are set out in twenty Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) which cover the whole of England’s coast.13 These were developed by seven Coastal Groups (consortia of local councils and the Environment Agency) and last updated between 2006 and 2012.14 SMPs are based on DEFRA guidance, ratified by local authorities and provide a policy framework to manage the risk of coastal change, over 20, 50 and 100-year time periods.15 Stretches of coast are divided into “management units” and for each of these, one of four different management policies are agreed as follows:


1 DEFRA (FCC0013) para 5

2 Environment Agency, Climate change impacts and adaptation report, (November 2018), p 8

3 Environment Agency, Climate change impacts and adaptation report, (November 2018), p 15

4 Environment Agency, Climate change impacts and adaptation report, (November 2018), p 15

5 Environment Agency, Climate change impacts and adaptation report, (November 2018), p 8

6 The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (FCC0012) para 7

7 Environment Agency (FCC0007) para 2.1

8 Committee on Climate Change, Managing the coast in a changing climate, (October 2018), p 10

9 Committee on Climate Change, Managing the coast in a changing climate, (October 2018), p 49

10 North East Lindsey IDB (FCC0004) para 3.9; the Committee learnt about the level of gas supply provided by Bacton Gas Terminal during its visit to North Norfolk.

11 Environment Agency (FCC0007) para 2.5

12 Environment Agency (FCC0007) para 2.6

13 DEFRA (FCC0013) para 11

14 Environment Agency (FCC0041) page 3

15 DEFRA (FCC0013) para 11

16 HM Government ‘Check coastal erosion management in your area’, accessed 30 October 2019.




Published: 1 November 2019