Martin Parsons: The politically explosive small print in the Climate Change Committee’s report on sea defence

Destroying coastal barriers to “create a new habitat area” would mean leaving our seaside towns and villages to be flooded. People must come first.

Dr Martin Parsons is a former aid worker in Afghanistan and Pakistan and has a PhD in Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations.

At the end of October the government’s Climate Change Committee published its report on how the UK should respond to sea level rise. Not terribly interested? – well you should be because the small print in this report is political dynamite for some of the most disadvantaged communities, who guess what – overwhelmingly voted for Brexit and include a significant proportion of the marginal seats Conservatives need to hold to win the next election.

The purpose of this article is not take issue with the science – it’s what the report recommends the government does that is so politically toxic. The science is fairly straightforward – sea level has risen by around 15 cm since 1900 (actually if you live south of a line from Middlesbrough to Liverpool it’s probably more due to land sinking relative to the sea). At current rates it is likely to rise by a further 50 cm and possibly 80 cm by 2100 i.e. within the lifetime of children living today.

That means that storm surges will overtop existing sea defences more frequently – and the biggest surges will inundate much bigger areas of land. At the moment around half a million properties, including 370,000 homes are vulnerable to flooding. The report estimates this will increase to 1.2 million homes by 2080.

Higher sea levels also increase coastal erosion and the report estimates the number of homes vulnerable to erosion will increase from 8,900 to 100,000 over the same period.

So what does the report suggest we do about it? Well some infrastructure will need to be relocated – including some roads, railway lines and even three railway stations. Once they get damaged by storm surges on more than a couple of occasions it becomes more economic to move them than repair them.

However, the really politically toxic bit of the report deals with coastal communities. It says, because major urban areas and infrastructure will require better sea defences – and there is only so much money available, that is where money should be spent. However, for coastal communities in towns and villages – it is worse than that. The report recommends that 149-185 km of coast which is currently designated as ‘hold the line’ in shoreline management plans should be redesignated as ‘managed retreat’.

Let me explain what that means. Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) designate each part of the coast as one of four categories:

  • Advance the line (never used – although significant parts of the coast were reclaimed from the sea by previous generations)
  • Hold the Line (i.e. protect the existing shoreline)
  • No Active intervention (i.e. do nothing – including not repairing any existing sea defences)
  • Managed Realignment (also known as ‘managed retreat’ – deliberately breaching existing sea defences, for example, to allow farmland to be turned into salt marsh)

In other words, the report recommends not simply saving money by not repairing sea defences, but deliberately breaching them. The justification it offers for this is twofold:

“It has advantages in removing long-term financial commitments to maintain defences and in restoring natural environments and processes. Managed realignment can create new habitat area that acts as a natural buffer to coastal waves and is much cheaper to maintain over the long-term.”

However, the advantages it talks of are clearly not for the local community who sea defences are supposed to “defend”. The advantages are in reducing the cost to the Treasury and creating “new habitat”.

Yet the cost to the local community is extraordinarily high. The report gives as an example of the sort of strategy they envisage, a village in Wales of 1,000 people. Despite a consultation having been done on the latest SMP, most of the residents were shocked to discover somewhat later that their village would only be protected until 2025 which would be followed by a period of working towards ‘decommissioning’ the village in 2055.

Can you imagine what that does to a whole community?

It’s far worse than planning blight – at least then there is the possibility of compensation from a compulsory purchase order. However, with ‘decommissioning’ a village to prepare for managed retreat – every house becomes valueless, unsaleable – and there is absolutely no compensation. That’s right – no compensation – if your land becomes part of the seabed you lose everything and no one pays you anything. And your mortgage – well yes you could default on it and let the building society pick up the tab. But if you do then don’t expect to ever get another mortgage. This is a huge social justice issue.

Think it won’t happen? Well – here’s the sting in the tail – the Climate Change Committee’s report laments the fact that:

“Even the modest amount of managed realignment envisaged in the SMPs is not being implemented at the rate set out in the plans.”

To address this it then immediately calls for Shoreline Management Plans to be placed on a statutory basis so that the plans have to be implemented. That means that if the SMP places your village under managed retreat then the Environment Agency would have a legal duty to breach the sea defences and flood it. The report suggests the current environment and agriculture legislation be amended to do this.

Even aside from the massive social injustice this represents let me spell out why else the government should categorically reject these recommendations:

  1. The report itself admits that ‘Many coastal communities are particularly vulnerable because populations in coastal areas are often poorer and older than the UK average.’ Despite this, it effectively recommends removing funding for sea defence repairs from them in order to spend it on large urban areas, which already get more public spending per person.
  2. It justifies this by claiming it will reduce costs and ‘create habitats’. I’m sorry but we’ve been here before – one of the reasons villages in the Somerset Levels remained cut off by floods for a month in 2014 was because the Environment Agency had prioritised nature conservation and so kept the water levels artificially high and not dredged the rivers. Like most Conservatives I am a natural conservationist – but people come first.
  3. The report’s recommendations significantly increase vulnerability to flooding.  This is despite the report itself admitting that coastal flooding will increase to 1.2 million homes by 2080 and that of all natural disasters coastal flooding claims more lives than almost any other event and in the UK there is a long history of coastal floods leading to many deaths.

While breaching sea walls – which is what managed retreat means – may create salt marsh which could act as a temporary buffer to coastal erosion, it also removes significant protection against the much higher risk of coastal flooding. Replacing a 2m sea wall with a ‘sea level’ salt marsh significantly reduces existing flood protection – at a time when sea levels are rising. This itself reveals the ideological bias of the report which purports to be a response to rising sea levels.

However, this is also a politically toxic issue because so much comes down to money. The report actually says that if the government paid for all the existing sea defences (i.e. hold the line) in shoreline management plans at today’s prices – it would cost between £6.9 and 9.2 billion.

Now try telling those seaside towns and villages, a great many of which are marginal constituencies, that they can’t have that money and that some of their villages are even going to be ‘decommissioned’. While at the same time telling these coastal communities most of which voted Brexit – that we are talking about whether to give four or five times that amount of money to the EU in exchange for what may be little more than the promise of talks about a future trade deal. That’s not just toxic – it’s politically explosive for any government…

Laura Sandys: We should support the “Heineken” of decarbonisation – Carbon Capture reaches parts that other technologies can’t reach.

Britain has a proud environmental record. Here is another opportunity to lead the world.

Laura Sandys is a member of the Commission on the Future of Localism and a Vice-President of Civic Voice.

We should commend ourselves that Conservatives have been at the forefront of the global endeavour to combat climate change and our achievements have not been insignificant. Since 2010, a Conservative-led Government signed the Paris Agreement, became the first major economy to commit to phasing out coal and has overseen a remarkable decarbonisation of the power sector. Electricity generated from clean sources is 50 per cent today, up from 19 per cent at the beginning of the decade.

We as Conservatives can rightfully be proud of this record.

However we must not kid ourselves that while we have been successful in addressing the decarbonisation of electricity, we now face some even tougher decisions.  Power decarbonisation is just one piece of the policy puzzle. The heavy lifting is just about to start as we now have to address the decarbonisation of heat, industry, transport and agriculture.

These decisions are not just difficult but time sensitive as the recently published UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report starkly states.  If we don’t move faster and deeper into our carbon-reliant economy and limit warming to 1.5 degrees, we are facing an unsustainable future for most of our communities.

To decarbonise those hard to reach parts of the economy there are limited few options available. Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage Technologies (CCUS) is the most promising option to unlock decarbonisation by removing and then using or storing carbon dioxide before it is emitted into the atmosphere. In addition, the UK is uniquely placed to exploit this technology with the North Sea infrastructure, skills from our offshore oil and gas sector and using the existing pipelines from land to store already in place.  As well as bringing obvious environmental benefits, this is also a huge economic opportunity to establish a world-leading industry in the UK and ensure our industrial heartlands remain relevant for decades to come.

As the Heineken of decarbonisation, CCUS can help decarbonise heavy industry, produce low carbon hydrogen to decarbonise heating and transport, as well as support negative emission technologies when integrated with bio-energy generation. Other low carbon technologies cannot do this.

Again Conservatives have taken a leadership role through Energy Minister Claire Perry’s commissioning of a Cost Challenge Taskforce to establish a pathway to exploit CCUS. The report identified five areas ideally suited to clustering CCUS. Teesside, Yorkshire & the Humber, the North West, Scotland and South Wales have closely located power and industrial facilities and access to offshore storage. This industrial clustering is key to driving cost reductions and maximising the full value of the technology.

CCUS now needs a clear policy signal from Government, but one that recognises the unique economic and environmental value that the technology brings to the whole economy, not just the power sector.

Claire Perry has done a terrific job of building confidence in the industry over the past year. Committing to developing at least two regional clusters in the Government’s CCUS Deployment Pathway, would continue the Conservatives proud tradition of global green leadership and nurturing competitive, low carbon industries.  All done while also protecting our industrial base and supporting our regional Industrial Strategy.

Three decades after Thatcher’s Conservative Governments supported the formation of the IPCC, we should heed their latest warnings and support technologies that go where none have gone before..

29 October 2018 – today’s press releases (part two)

As promised, part two of today’s output from the Party’s Press Team… Fiscal Phil’s sticking plaster Budget Responding to the Chancellor’s Budget, Liberal Democrat Leader and former Business Secretary Vince Cable said: This was all very modest stuff, with more in it for potholes than schools and the police. A standstill non-event. With growth remaining […]

As promised, part two of today’s output from the Party’s Press Team…

Fiscal Phil’s sticking plaster Budget

Responding to the Chancellor’s Budget, Liberal Democrat Leader and former Business Secretary Vince Cable said:

This was all very modest stuff, with more in it for potholes than schools and the police. A standstill non-event.

With growth remaining stubbornly low and Brexit weighing down our economy, it is clear the big problems are still to be tackled. It was a sticking plaster Budget, when major surgery lies ahead.

If we are to see an end to austerity, then we need a proper injection of cash – at least £19bn according to the IFS – in our public services. The Chancellor said he could end austerity without raising taxes, but that is highly unlikely in practice.

The Chancellor dined out on the borrowing improvements the OBR has given him, but these are overshadowed by the damaging impact Brexit will have on the UK’s public finances. These costs, which could reach £80bn a year in the event of ‘no deal’, risk turning today’s Budget into a sideshow.

Conservative Government throwing in the towel on halting climate change

Responding to the the Chancellor’s Budget, former Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Davey said:

This budget is grossly disappointing for those, like me, who care about fighting climate change and protecting the environment. The Chancellor has simply thrown in the towel.

The Tories have frozen fuel duty, slashed electric car subsides, committed £30bn to new road building and promise to continue at the same level subsidises to the oil and gas industry, while offering a measly £60 million to planting new trees, as if that will negate the damage they’re doing.

Liberal Democrats demand better. We would deliver a green budget, which promises more investment in renewable energy, not fossil fuels, borrowing to invest in infrastructure like rail, buses and electric vehicle charging points.

Budget clouded by Brexit disarray and uncertainty

Responding to the Budget this afternoon, Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Tom Brake said:

May and Hammond can’t agree what a no-deal Brexit will mean for the Budget. Hammond thinks it will require a whole new, emergency budget while May has attempted to save face and insist the Budget will stand regardless. What a mess.

This fingers-crossed Budget is predicated on the Tories’ hopes that despite the mess they are making of Brexit the economy won’t suffer too severely. In reality, the Tories’ infighting has them gambling with the UK’s finances.

Liberal Democrats demand better. Brexit must not be allowed to make the UK poorer, that is why we need a final vote on the Brexit deal with an option to remain in the EU.

Lib Dems: Gamblers face another year of being held captive to FOBTs

Responding to the Chancellor’s announcement today that the £2 maximum stake for Fixed-Odds-Betting-Terminals will not be implemented until October 2019, former Liberal Democrat Communities Minister Lord Foster said:

We know with absolute certainty that this delay will see yet more lives ruined by these highly addictive machines.

Communities up and down the country see the damage that can be done when hundreds of pounds can be lost in minutes if not seconds, day after day.

Families will be despairing tonight that a problem gambler that they care about faces another full year of living captive to these machines until the Government step-in and do the right thing.

‘Hot air’ Tories abandon commitment to latte levy

Responding to the Chancellor’s announcement that the Government will dump their commitment to a latte levy, Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael said:

It is bitterly disappointing that the Chancellor has abandoned the Government’s commitment to introduce a levy on plastic cups.

It proves the Tories are full of hot air and no credible action. It also proves what I have said all along, that headlines are more important to them than the environment.

Our Environment deserves better. Liberal Democrats will continue to fight for a ban all single-use plastic within three years, the introduction of a levy on all producers and retailers that produce or use single-use plastics and the introduction of a latte levy.

Chancellor’s Universal Credit spending barely recovers half the cuts of his predecessor

Responding to the Chancellor’s Universal Credit plans from the Budget, Liberal Democrat DWP spokesperson Stephen Lloyd said:

After stubbornly resisting for far too long, the Government has finally responded to pressure from the Liberal Democrats and put back some of the money into the Universal Credit Work Allowance, which they stupidly cut the moment we were no longer around to stop them.

However, the £1.7 billion per year the Chancellor committed to still does not make up for the £3 billion pa his predecessor George Osborne slashed from the benefit in 2015. We also heard nothing on ending the gratuitous benefits freeze early, or on making UC fairer for the self-employed.

UC’s serious design flaws were also not addressed, from long waiting times that are pushing people into indebtedness, to problems in how landlords are paid housing benefit. The pain caused by the roll-out of UC is not over yet.

In addition, there were Budget-related releases from Scotland and Wales, which Caron has covered here. I won’t repeat them…