Hundreds of homes in Wicklow face being washed into the sea if doomsday predictions for climate change come through.
Coastal communities in Bray, Greystones, Kilcoole, Newcastle, Wicklow Town and down to Arklow will bear the brunt if sea levels rise by a predicted one metre.
The worrying forecast by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) at the United Nations this would lead to devastating impacts for the country’s main cities and dozens of seaside towns and villages within a 5km radius of the coast.
Nearly 50% of the country’s population live within 5km of the sea and local authorities in Dublin have warned in recent weeks that the sea level in Dublin Bay has risen at twice the global rate.
As reported in the last edition of the Wicklow Voice, the DART is in danger of falling into the sea also and coastal flooding is a key concern of the climate adaptation plans recently adopted by the councils of Dublin city, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and Fingal.
Levels rose 6-7mm per year which, combined with stronger and more frequent storm surges, has caused serious flooding in the capital.
Professor Andy Wheeler of the School of Environmental Sciences at University College Cork said while the scenario seemed extreme, it was a very possible outcome if global warming was not tackled.
“It’s a solid prediction, based on science. It’s not alarmist or provocative.”
The IPCC report warns that 680m people living in coastal areas around the world are at risk from rising sea levels and storm surges as polar ice, mountain snow and glaciers begin to melt.
Prof Wheeler said, however, that flood protection would be ineffective in the scenarios presented in the IPCC report.
“You would see large parts of our main cities under water, massive displacement of people and ultimately little choice but to move the cities inland,” he said.
“We tend to think of the IPCC reports as being global but not really relevant to Ireland but this report has great significance for Ireland. This is not just about the Maldives and South Pacific islands, this is about us.
“What’s really sobering is that greenhouse gas emissions globally are increasing and we’re not really tackling it and time is running out.”
But apart from the loss of land, homes, businesses and infrastructure threatened by rising sea levels, the melting ice is having other damaging effects.
The IPCC report warns that as the oceans warm, they are becoming more acidic and unable to support as much fish life as before.
Shellfish – of major importance to Ireland’s fishing fleet – are particularly vulnerable and are dwindling in numbers.