Coastal erosion: How climate change threatens Yorkshire towns – Andrew Vine

ONE of my favourite places in Yorkshire is Spurn, that fragile, other-worldly sliver of sand and shingle between the North Sea and the Humber, where it can feel like you’re standing at the ends of the earth.

Spurn Point is on the front line in the fight against climate change, writes Andrew Vine ahead of the COP26 summit. Photo: Bruce Rollinson.

There was a school group there when I visited a few weeks ago, and the children were obviously as enchanted by this unique environment as I have been for as long as I can remember.

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The big skies, the ever-shifting sands and the wreckage of sea defences that are testament to a century or more of futile attempts to hold the tides back cast the same spell over the children as they do over every other visitor.

Coastal erosion has been particularly profound along the Holderness coast at Skipsea - but will the COP26 summit take sufficient action against climate change, rising seas and more extreme weather?

And then the unsettling thought struck me that it is possible that, within the span of those children’s lives, this precious place might be obliterated by the waves that have waged war on Spurn for centuries.

That is what rising sea levels caused by climate change could mean to this special corner of Yorkshire, and not only there. Driving from Spurn up the Holderness coast, I ticked off other places for whom the sea, forever a fearsome neighbour, poses a growing threat.

Withernsea, sheltered behind its massive concrete defences, Hornsea, where not long ago a large section of cliff collapsed, Aldbrough and Skipsea, where residents have suffered the appalling heartache of seeing the clifftop creep ever closer to their homes, until they had to abandon them to demolition.

I don’t suppose the plight of these Yorkshire coastal communities where the sea chomps away a yard or more of the land every year will be mentioned at the COP26 summit starting in Glasgow tomorrow, but we all ought to have them at the forefront of our minds.

Spurn Point is on the front line in the fight against climate change, writes Andrew Vine ahead of the COP26 summit. Photo: Bruce Rollinson.

They are reminders that climate change isn’t some abstract problem for other parts of the world being hit by droughts that ruin crops or wildfires, but a serious threat right here on our own doorsteps.

So are the towns and cities all over our county that have suffered so badly from flooding in recent years because of the increasingly frequent periods of torrential rainfall, leaving businesses struggling to survive and homes uninhabitable.

For the sake of all these places, and those who live there, we should hope that COP26 proves a watershed moment, and that over the next 12 days the international community can achieve consensus on action to tackle climate change.

It is regrettable that China’s President Xi will not be present, given that he rules the world’s worst 
polluter, and that Russia’s President Putin will also be absent, given his country’s terrible environmental record.

Spurn Point is on the front line in the fight against climate change, writes Andrew Vine ahead of the COP26 summit. Photo: James Hardisty.

Their absences are obstacles to commitments being reached to limit the rise in global average temperatures to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Even so, there is reason to be optimistic that the leaders who are present will make good on the increasing worldwide clamour for action.

In the face of that – especially added to the pressure from their own young people to safeguard the planet for future generations – even regimes as thick-skinned and confrontational as China and Russia cannot refuse to play their part.

Whilst there has been criticism of the Government over its own climate change strategy, as Britain plays host to the summit, the country should be proud that it is in the vanguard of nations working towards net zero emissions.

Coastal erosion has been particularly profound along the Holderness coast at Skipsea - but will the COP26 summit take sufficient action against climate change, rising seas and more extreme weather?

The public accepts the need for change, not because they have been pushed reluctantly into it but out of a genuine concern for what is happening, and a desire to take action before it is too late.

And just as Yorkshire communities are on the frontline when it comes 
to the effects of climate change, so 
our county should be at the forefront 
of Britain’s battle to safeguard the planet.

That will not only be good for every city, town or village at risk from flooding or the sea. It will be good for the economy too if we embrace green industries.

We’ve already made a start. The Siemens wind-turbine plant at Hull is a world leader and there is absolutely no reason why other renewable energy businesses should not make our region their home.

Earlier this month, CBI director-general Tony Danker said Yorkshire could be to the green economy what the City is to finance.

Research and development of new technologies have long been a strength of our industrial base, and that is going to prove more valuable than ever in the years ahead.

Coastal erosion has been particularly profound along the Holderness coast at Skipsea - but will the COP26 summit take sufficient action against climate change, rising seas and more extreme weather?

We have also embraced renewable power in a way that would have seemed unthinkable only a couple of decades ago, when many people threw up their hands in horror at the idea of wind turbines in the countryside.

Not any more. The turbines on hilltops in the Dales or Wolds are no longer viewed as despoiling the landscapes, but a valuable element in safeguarding the countryside by reducing carbon emissions.

Yorkshire’s efforts to really do something about climate change are not confined to land. Soon, the seas off Hornsea will be home to the country’s largest offshore windfarm.

It is the fervent wish of billions around the world that over the next 
few days we witness history being made, and that leaders can put petty divisions and the distractions of their domestic politics aside in favour of taking decisions for the good of everybody.

The precious landscape of Spurn, the clifftop householders who look anxiously outside every day to see if destruction has inched closer overnight, or those who worry about flooding every time it rains deserve no less.

* Read Andrew Vine in The Yorkshire Post every Tuesday.

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