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Governments must prepare for sea level rises of three metres by 2100

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Sea levels
Sea levels

Governments around the world must ensure that coastal flooding policies, strategy and investment decisions are based on sea level rises greater than previously estimated thought

Governments around the world must step up their preparations for a minimum sea level rise of one metre this century and be planning for up to three metres, according to a new report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE).

Rising sea levels present society with a significant shift in one of the most fundamental of baselines – the height of high tide. This will have huge direct impacts on coastal communities who are likely to experience more regular flooding of their homes and businesses and also indirect consequences for the rest of society when critical infrastructure, such as roads, hospitals and power generation is impacted.

Technical, logistical and economic factors mean that much of our 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.

When coastal flooding happens at these types of facilities, the supplies of energy, food, medicines, goods and services are put at risk.

"Rising sea levels: the engineering challenge" finds that even with the knowledge that these facilities are  of central importance to economic well-being, there is little evidence that owners and operators of these assets, whether in the public or private sector, have awareness of the challenges of future coastal flooding or are making the investment necessary to implement adaptations or build resilience.

Dr Tim Fox, report author and Fellow of the IMechE 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.”

The report was prepared by the IMechE to help the engineering community explore its professional response to a sustained multi-metre sea level rise this century and was carried out in collaboration with the Rising Seas Institute.

The report has three main recommendations for governments around the world:

  1. Recognise in coastal flooding policy, strategy and investment decisions the emerging evidence base that indicates the possibility of sea level rises this century significantly greater than previously anticipated and prepare for a minimum of a 1 metre rise in sea level this century but plan for 3 metres of rise. In this regard, consideration should be given to what measures will be required to address a three metre rise and actions taken to ensure an adaptive-ready built environment and infrastructure.
  2. Ensure that policy and strategy include consideration of industrial infrastructure, including but not limited to oil refineries, gas processing plants, chemical processing plants, pharmaceuticals and biopharmaceuticals manufacturing and food processing factories, water and wastewater treatment and processing plants, bulk materials handling facilities, power stations and renewable energy processing sites (biofuels, biogas etc), much of which are located alongside tidal estuaries or on the coastal shoreline.
  3. 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, for sea level rises up to 3 metres this century, and the requirements for assessment of the impacts on the building services and industrial infrastructure. In this regard, we strongly suggest that UK Government convenes such a task force to include the UK’s environment agencies, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), DEFRA, BEIS, MHCLG and industry expert representatives, to take ownership of the industrial resilience planning for future sea level induced coastal flooding.

Notes to Editors

  • If you would like a copy of the report, please contact the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Press Office on 020 7304 6877 or at media@imeche.org
  • The Institution of Mechanical Engineers was established in 1847 and has some of the world’s greatest engineers in its history books. It is one of the fastest growing professional engineering institutions. Headquartered in London, we have operations around the world and over 120,000 members in more than 140 countries working at the heart of the most important and dynamic industries such as the automotive, rail, aerospace, medical, power and construction industries.
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