‘Rising sea levels are inevitable’

A host of UK and European experts were in Norfolk yesterday in an effort to thrash out some of the thorny issues surrounding climate change, sea level rise and coastal erosion.

Speakers with differing perspectives gave presentations at the On the Brink conference at Barnham Broom Hotel, near Norwich.

Issues raised included overviews of the impact of carbon-dioxide emissions on the environment, the increasing potential for extreme sea levels in the manner of 1953, the relationship between offshore dredging and increased coastal erosion, sediment movement and erosion case studies from Norfolk.

There were contributions from academics working at the University of East Anglia, the Environment Agency, plus experts from Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, and a perspective from landowners in Essex.

The event was organised by the County Landowners and Business Association (CLA).

Repeated reference was made to examples of erosion and sea defence works in Norfolk, including Happisburgh, Sea Palling, Salthouse, Brancaster and Scratby.

Several of the speakers had taken the opportunity on Wednesday to visit several of these sites so they could see the impacts of climate change and coastal erosion policies in Norfolk.

David Viner, of the UEA climatic research unit, attempted to dispel what he described as some of the myths surrounding climate change, and discussed various future scenarios and what bearing those scenarios would have on the world.

"We are committed to sea level rise for many centuries, even if emissions stop now," he warned.

Maria Russo, from the Hadley Centre for climate prediction and research in Devon, said extreme surge events would be much more likely in the future, but that it was necessary to develop better predictive models and improve the understanding of the climate system.

Jane Rawson of the Environment Agency touched on a number of issues, including sediment movement, the difference between flood defence and coast protection, and offshore dredging. The subject of offshore dredging, which some have claimed has a direct effect on coastal erosion on the North Norfolk coast, came up several more times during the day-long conference.