East Anglia: ‘Dice is loaded’ against region in fight against impact of climate change

The Suffolk coast will face increasing threat from sea level rises, argues Asher Minns.
Photo: M

The Suffolk coast will face increasing threat from sea level rises, argues Asher Minns. Photo: Mike Page - Credit: Archant

Global carbon emissions that have rocketed to record levels mean “the dice is loaded” against East Anglia in its battle to resist the most dramatic effects of climate change, a leading researcher has warned.

The amount of carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere was now calculated to be 36billion tonnes – an all-time high – and with each additional tonne the risks to Suffolk, Essex and Norfolk increased, said climate change expert Asher Minns.

The director and communications manager at the University of East Anglia-based Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research sounded the warning in a talk on Saturday at the Firstsite venue in Colchester entitled East Anglia on the Edge.

He stressed that large parts of the East Anglian coastline were defended from flood and coastal erosion and he did not want to appear alarmist.

However, he said: “I do not think we can say with certainty that floods and tidal surges are linked to climate change but we can say that we are loading the dice on the issue of rising sea levels. With the more greenhouse gasses we put up there (into the atmosphere) the more probability there is of climate change, with sea level rises, increased winter rainfall and less in summer for our part of the world.”

On the recent North Sea tidal surge and flooding events, Mr Minns cited PM David Cameron’s comments in the House of Commons this month in which he told MPs he “very much suspected” that the events were linked to climate change. Mr Cameron, said the researcher, was “probably right”.

Sea level rise was not a new phenomenon – UK port records over 200 years had been studied “and all over the country the direction is up”, said Mr Minns.

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South-eastern Britain was “sinking” and Scotland was “rising” as Britain continued to “relax” after bearing the weight of glaciers during the last Ice Age. In addition, glaciers that were melting today were adding to sea level rise.

The combination of factors meant that for London, for example, sea level rises of at least 18cm and at most 80cm were predicted and “even if we turned off the CO2 tap” rises would continue because it was such a long-term process.

In terms of the amount of carbon currently in the Earth’s atmosphere, said Mr Minns, “we are about half way to (the amount that would produce) a climate change of a global average of 2C” and “we are now 61% above the levels of 1990.”

Of the 36bn tonnes of carbon released in the Earth’s atmosphere, 12bn tonnes had been emitted globally in the last year, with China alone being responsible for nearly half the period’s released amount, it was claimed.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had recently concluded that it was “highly likely” that human influence had been the “dominant cause” of observed global warming since the mid-20th Century and planning for and adapting to climate change was now “really an issue of political support.”

Mr Minns was speaking as part of a series of talks based on the current Firstsite exhibition of works by the renowned environmental and conceptual artist Agnes Denes. The exhibition, Work: 1967 – 2013, continues until March 9.