Investment in our coastlines is needed to reach net-zero by 2050 and unlock green jobs
Globally, we have lost more than half of coastal tidal habitats, due to a deadly combination of climate change, sea level rise, coastal erosion and development, writes Sally-Ann Heart MP. | PA Images
Protecting and restoring our coastal habitats is vital to tackle climate change, reverse the loss of wildlife and bring much needed tourism and green jobs to our seaside communities.
As an island nation our coastline is one of the jewels in our crown, and many of us will visit it over this summer period.
While the British seaside provides a great holiday destination, our coasts can also provide a great service to us. They can play a vital role in tackling climate change and protecting us against rising sea levels, as well as being the home to internationally important wildlife. They also bring much needed tourism and green jobs to our seaside communities, especially as we recover from the coronavirus crisis.
This could not be more apparent than in my constituency of Hastings and Rye, where we are blessed with the Rye Harbour nature reserve and a coastline of shingle beaches, reedbeds and saline lagoons.
The banks of the River Rother, for example, are lined with saltmarshes and wetlands that teem with wading birds and a myriad of butterflies, bumblebees and dragonflies.
However, unfortunately, the bigger picture is less positive.
Globally, we have lost more than half of coastal tidal habitats, due to a deadly combination of climate change, sea level rise, coastal erosion and development – and we are predicted to lose up to 3,000 hectares more, per year, by 2050.
Incredibly, when properly functioning, saltmarshes can suck up carbon up to 3 times faster than tropical rainforests. Yet it is estimated that as much as 1 billion tonnes of carbon are being released annually from degraded coastal ecosystems worldwide.
In addition, when we lose this natural coastal ‘buffer zone’, coastal houses and businesses are put at much greater risk of flooding.
Using nature-based solutions to tackle climate change could provide a third of the climate change mitigation required to meet the global Paris Agreement target.
Research from the University of Southampton has also shown that coastal communities are likely to have been hit hardest by coronavirus’s economic impacts. It is important that we invest properly in these areas so that no-one is left behind in the economic recovery.
The Government’s £40 million Green Recovery Challenge Fund moved quickly to create up to 3,000 conservation jobs, and an expansion of the fund could be used to support even more, safeguarding livelihoods and habitats while drawing even more visitors to these areas as well.
It is clear as we emerge from the coronavirus crisis that we also need to protect ourselves against potential future shocks that could arise as a result from climate change.
Using nature-based solutions to tackle climate change could provide a third of the climate change mitigation required to meet the global Paris Agreement target – yet it currently receives only 2.5% of worldwide climate funding.
Bringing forward the Government’s warmly welcomed £640 million Nature for Climate Fund as soon as possible and extending it beyond tree planting to invest in restoring and protecting a variety of carbon-rich habitats would be a significant way of recognising the services these landscapes provide.
There are several projects already underway or completed which have sought to recreate these natural coastal habitats.
The RSPB’s Wallasea Island in Essex, for example, took three million tonnes of excess soil from the construction of Crossrail to create 670 hectares of wetlands, saline lagoons and coastal grassland that now protect local villages from repeated flooding.
These projects can also provide new outdoor landscapes for local people to enjoy, with all the associated physical and mental health benefits, as well as potential tourism income and knock on impacts on nearby rejuvenated fishing stocks.
If we were to scale this up it has been estimated that, in England alone, we could create 26,500 hectares of new saltmarsh – which could make use of innovative partnerships that connect local communities and NGOs with Government and private investors.
Nature-based solutions to climate change mitigation and flooding have an important role to play, alongside traditional ‘hard engineering’ structures.
September’s Green Recovery budget provides the perfect opportunity to invest in protecting and restoring our vital coastal habitats.
As well as directly funding restoration and creation, there is also the opportunity to use the new Environmental Land Management scheme to pay farmers to support natural flood management techniques – including transitioning less productive parcels of land to temporary floodplains and wet grassland, or even mudflats and saltmarshes.
It’s time that we unlock the potential of our coastlines to reach our 2050 goal for net zero emissions and reverse our loss of wildlife - whilst simultaneously helping to provide our coastal communities with jobs and investment where it's most needed.
Sally-Ann Heart is the Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye.