Why Norfolk is in the firing line in battle against climate change

Flooding along the A149 coast road in Salthouse. Low-lying Norfolk is in the firing line when it com

Flooding along the A149 coast road in Salthouse. Low-lying Norfolk is in the firing line when it comes to potential flooding from climate change - Credit: Archant

There is no doubt that the school strike, Extinction Rebellion and Sir David Attenborough have got people talking about climate change. Sometimes, it's easy to feel insulated from the effects of climate change but, as environmental scientist Angela Terry explains, Norfolk is more vulnerable than most

Angela Terry

Angela Terry - Credit: Archant

As the world warms, the future of Norfolk will be defined by water, both too much and too little – and the cost and disruption will be huge.

In the recent David Attenborough documentary Climate Change – The Facts, there was an eerie moment where the impact of sea level rise was shown on a map of the UK. The glaring big, blue patch of water was spreading over Lincolnshire and East Anglia over time. Flooding will not only impact those by the coast but entire towns and boroughs. Sea levels rose from 3mm a year to 3.7mm in 2018 and this rate will continue to increase as the world heats up, creating more thermal expansion in our oceans and melting more ice. There will also be more frequent and intense downpours and storm surges to exacerbate the problem. Unfortunately, East Anglia's flat topography and its large areas of low-lying land make it particularly vulnerable to flooding.

The proposed shoreline management plan highlights which areas will be defended from floods and those where 'realignment' or managed retreat will occur. North Norfolk Council manages a demolition grant if your home would otherwise fall into the sea, and the UK's only gas link to mainland Europe at Bacton is at risk due to coastal erosion.

The impacts of climate change are already with us.

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Ironically, this region also has one of the highest levels of water stress in the UK. Anglia Water has finished its consultation on its drought plan. Half their water comes from reservoirs and rivers, and the remaining 50pc from underground aquifers. The region is expected to experience lower summer rainfall and increased evaporation, which will put extra stress on groundwater sources, so there is a real problem for secure water supply. This will have obvious impacts on the region's agricultural industry, which produces half of the UK's sugar beet, a third of its potatoes and a quarter of its wheat. Also, wildfires are an increasing risk. Thetford forest experiencing such an event three years ago where the 'hot weather' was listed as a contributing factor.

The financial cost of tackling all of this is immense. Sea wall defences typically cost around £9k per kilometre. The Tyndall Centre in Norwich, that hosts world leading climate scientists, estimates the cost of a two-degree Celsius rise in temperature would be $69 trillion dollars worldwide. We are currently on track for nearly four degrees of warming. The financial and human cost of this, which goes way beyond all the wealth in the world, is unimaginable.

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Of course, the problem goes beyond droughts and flooding. The impact on our delicately balanced ecosystem is frightening. The WWF's Living Planet Report 2018 shows that wildlife populations have declined by 60pc in less than 50 years – particularly insects such as bees, which are crucial for pollination.

The good news is that there is plenty we can all do. Scientists often say the most important action individuals can take is to contact their MPs. Political leadership is absolutely vital to getting ourselves out of this mess, and that will only happen if people speak up.

The very worst impacts of climate change can be prevented if we stop burning fossil fuels. Clean energy is not only good for the environment, but it improves energy security and a more resilient economy. East Anglia has led the way on onshore and offshore wind farm developments and many businesses have benefited financially from solar power, creating jobs along the way.

Individual actions do count: Switch to a green energy supplier, eat less red meat, holiday in the UK, insulate and draught proof your home and make your next car an electric one.

What we know for sure is we must switch to a sustainable way of life before we are quite literally swept away but the benefits of doing so are immense.

Angela Terry is founder of climate action website One Home, which gives practical guidance on how to lead a low-carbon lifestyle. She used to work developing community-owned wind turbines in the area and still returns for family holidays. Find out more about the actions you can take against climate change at www.onehome.org.uk.

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