Like many other residents of Fairbourne, Stuart Eves decided to settle in this small North Wales coastal town for the rest of his days. 28 years ago. He loves the peace of a small town with 700 inhabitants, which lies between the mountains and the Irish Sea.
“I wanted a place where my kids could grow up like I did, where they could run free,” said Eves, 74, who opened a mobile home park that her son now runs. “You have the sea and the mountains. This is an amazing place to live”.
That all changed suddenly in 2014, when authorities said Fairbourne was the first coastal community in the United Kingdom to be at serious risk of severe flooding due to climate change.
The government predicts that water levels will rise faster and there will be more frequent and stronger storms due to global warming, and it can only protect the community from bad weather for 40 years. Officials say that by 2054, it will no longer be safe or sustainable to live in Fairbourne.
That is why they have coordinated with the residents in a “scheduled relocation.” In other words, they will be taken to another place. until there is nothing left.
No one wants to leave
Overnight, house prices collapsed, and residents began to be described as the UK’s first “climate refugees.” Many could not believe it when they heard that the town would be “dismantled.”. Seven years later, most of their questions remain unanswered.
“They condemned the city and now they have to try to move people. There are 450 houses,” said Eves, who heads the municipal council. “If they want us to leave in 2054, they have to have a place to accommodate us.”
No one wants to leave. While there are many retirees, there are also young families raising the next generation. Locals take pride in their close-knit community. And even if the “center” consists only of a grocery store, a fast food place and a couple of restaurants, Residents say that the pebble beach and a small steam train attract many people during the summer.
Natural Resources Wales, the government-backed organization responsible for Fairbourne’s sea defenses, says the town is particularly vulnerable because it is prone to flooding.
It was built in the mid-1800s in low brackish water marsh. When the tide rises, it is below sea level. When there are storms, the water level is 1.5 meters higher than in the city.
Scientists say that the water level has risen about 10 centimeters in the last century. In 2100, it will grow between 70 centimeters and one meter, depending on greenhouse gas emissions and the measures taken by governments.
On the other hand, Fairbourne lies at the entrance of an estuary, which carries an increased risk of flooding. The authorities have invested millions of pounds to strengthen a sea wall and about three kilometers of barriers.
On the Welsh coast, there are many towns, and the decision about who to protect and what not to protect is a matter of financial considerations. Officials said that in the Fairbourne case, the cost of the defenses was higher “than the value of what they were protecting.”
The effects of climate change discussed at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow are already real here.
not just one
Catrin Wager of Gwynedd Council, a regional body that manages Fairbourne, noted that it could be the first coastal town to be declared unlivable, but not just one.
He reasoned that there is no policy to help the locals.
“We need more answers from the Welsh and British governments. That is my message” for the UN summit, Wager said. “We need guidance, not only on mitigating the effects of climate changebut also on how to adapt to what is already happening.”
Half a million properties are at risk of coastal flooding in the UK. And at the end of 2080,, there will bere will be 1.5 million, according to the Climate Change Committee, an independent advisory body.
“Whatever happens at the summit, the water level will continue to rise, and we need to be prepared,” said Richard Dawson, an engineering professor at Newcastle University and a member of the committee. “We have to be realistic. We cannot protect the entire coast. “The challenge the government has is that it is not addressing the problem with the urgency or transparency that is needed.”
In Fairbourne, the friction between residents and authorities shows how complicated everything is. Residents feel an injustice has been done to them and believe it is unclear how fast sea levels will rise to put their homes at risk. When and how will the evacuation take place? Will they get paid? If so, how much will they receive?
There is no answer to all these questions at the moment. The town’s priest, Ruth Hansford, said many residents were suffering from “emotional exhaustion” from years of uncertainty and negativity. Others decide to move on with their lives, as if nothing happened.
Becky Offland and her husband recently rented the Glan y Mor Hotel. They are convinced that he still has a lot of life ahead of him.
“It’s like a big family. This is not a city. This is a family, said Offland, 36. “We’re going to fight to keep him where he is.”
Down the road, Fairbourne Chippy owner Alan Jones, 66, said he had no plans to leave either.
“Until the water comes, until we can no longer physically work, we will continue,” he said.
Eves said that he and his son believe that “whatever has to happen will happen.” But he will mourn the inevitable disintegration of the town he loved so much.
“You can’t move this city to another place and expect it to continue to function the same,” he said. “What happened here is a human disaster, even on a small scale.