New report shows Cornwall's Climate risk

By Richard Whitehouse - Local Democracy Reporter

11th Nov 2022 | Local News

Professor Stephan Harrison from Climate Change Risk Management and professor of climate and environmental change at the University of Exeter
Professor Stephan Harrison from Climate Change Risk Management and professor of climate and environmental change at the University of Exeter

Extreme weather events like the floods which caused devastation in Boscastle and Coverack could become more prevalent due to climate change. That is one of the findings of a new climate change risk assessment for Cornwall which is set to be published today.

The assessment has been undertaken by renowned climate scientists based in Cornwall and looks at the impact that climate change could have on the way that we live in Cornwall in the future. As well as weather events the report also considers the potential impact on agriculture, health, and wellbeing.

It is believed that the risk report is one of the first to be completed at such a local level and will be used to guide policy decisions at the council. The document will also be shared with other organisations and businesses in Cornwall to assist with their future planning and considering how they can reduce their impact on climate change.

Professor Stephan Harrison, professor of climate and environmental change at the University of Exeter, wrote the report after Cornwall Council commissioned it from climate consultancy Climate Change Risk Management (CCRM).

It was commissioned as part of the climate change action plan drawn up by the council after it declared a climate emergency in 2019. Last year it added to this by also declaring an ecological emergency.

The report finds that Cornwall will see some of the highest potential sea level rises in the UK by the end of the century in the range of 0.2metres and 1m.

Other potential changes in Cornwall include the possibility of high-impact flooding like that seen in Boscastle in 2004 and Coverack in 2017; stronger storms and higher wind speeds; faster coastal erosion; and more heatwaves and severe droughts.

The report highlights that Cornwall will have to adapt to these changes which could impact existing industries such as agriculture and fishing. It indicates that rising sea temperatures could impact the marine ecology which would impact fishing and that changes in rain levels and temperatures could mean that farmers would have to change which crops and livestock they work with.

Prof Harrison said that CCRM usually worked with larger areas to complete climate risk assessments, highlighting recent work with the UK in Pakistan, Iraq and Ghana, and said he believed that Cornwall was the first to have such an assessment for a similar sized area in the UK. He said that while there was a UK-wide climate change risk assessment there had not been any done to look at individual counties.

He said that the new Cornwall assessment was designed to show what the science shows could happen as a result of climate change and said that it should be used to help put in place the adaptations which will be needed to cope with those changes.

Prof Harrison stressed though that these projections are based on the most up-to-date scientific models and could be subject to change. He said that the risks identified were not predictions but projections.

With comments being made at this week's COP27 event in Egypt suggesting that governments, businesses and organisations are still not doing enough or acting quickly enough to tackle climate change, does Prof Harrison think Cornwall is doing enough?

"We are not doing enough nationally and internationally. Cornwall has clearly taken climate change seriously pretty quickly, maybe not as quickly as it should have done, but Cornwall is not unique in that.

"Cornwall does have some real issues which are rather contradictory though. We have a regional airport that is important for the local economy and development of space infrastructure. That is important to keep open and at the same time we are declaring a climate emergency. There are places where the left hand doesn't always know what the right hand is doing."

Martyn Alvey, Cornwall Council Cabinet member for the environment and climate change, said that whilst some of the risks identified in the report could be considered frightening he did not want to alarm people.

"The word alarm is not one we would want to use – we don't want to alarm people but we do what them to take it seriously and to recognised the challenges, particularly in Cornwall, that need a rapid response."

Turning to the report he said: "It strongly underlines the need for us to act – to be aware of our impacts on the climate and to understand the risks that are coming. It highlights the fact there is no time to lose when it comes to cutting our emissions to reduce the likelihood of these risks to our communities and environment.

"Climate change is affecting us now, with the frequency of more extreme weather events growing. Building on our strong track record of supporting communities to be resilient, this report will help us consider how we will need to adapt and how we can support communities in developing their adaptation plans."

As well as highlighting the risks of climate change the report also identifies the opportunities that adapting to and tackling climate change present in the form of new industries and the green economy.

Cllr Alvey said that the council was working to encourage development of the likes of floating offshore wind energy creation, lithium extraction, retrofitting homes to make them more efficient and electric vehicle infrastructure which could create new jobs in Cornwall.


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