Sea Levels and Climate Change

image of rising sea levels from Guardian data blog
Image taken from When Sea Levels Attack, a data visualisation by David McCandless for the Guardian datablog. See and for the full visualisation.

“…We still seem to find it hard to treat the future as if it really is as important as the present, and seek to tackle each problem separately from the others…Humanity can no longer simply think of existing from generation to generation, but must ensure that the world we leave behind is as good as, if not better than, the one we found.”
– From closing statement ‘What next for sustainable development’ by Will Day & Andrew Lee, Sustainable Development Commission (March 2011)

It may be 1000 years or more before London is as dramatically affected as illustrated by Plunge, but many parts of the world, including low-lying coastal areas around the UK, are in more immediate danger from rising sea levels. Although an increase of this size in average sea levels seems a long way off, the impact of sea level rises will be seen much sooner in the devastating effects of flooding, storm surge and tidal variations.

A height of 28 metres above current sea level was chosen for Plunge as an extreme illustration of what could happen if we continue with a ‘business as usual’ emissions scenario (without changing anything we do today).

While there is convincing evidence that sea levels have risen more rapidly in recent years, there is little consensus from scientists around the world about how fast levels might increase in the future. The difficulty in making accurate predictions, even over a short space of time, means that most predictions are limited to the next hundred years and little work has been done on specific predictions beyond 2100.

In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted a global sea level rise of between 18-59cm by the end of the century[1], however more recent studies have suggested that we could see a sea level rise of up to 2 metres by 2100, based on our current emissions trajectory[2].



In other parts of the world, potentially devastating consequences of sea level rises are more immediate. Coastal areas around the world are threatened, with 13 of the 15 largest cities in the world on coastal plains.

“Several Pacific island states are threatened with total disappearance and 2 uninhabited islands in the Kiribati chain have already disappeared due to sea level rise.

The people of Funafti in Tuvalu and on Kiribati island are lobbying to find new homes: salt water intrusion has made groundwater undrinkable and these islands are suffering increasing impacts from hurricanes and heavy seas. In the village of Saoluafata in Samoa, villagers have noticed that their coastline has retreated by as much as 50 metres in the last decade. Many of these people have had to move further inland as a result.”
Source: WWF

See how sea level rises might affect you… (link to see change to your postcode / town)


“You can make a lot of speeches, but the real thing is when you dig a hole, plant a tree, give it water, and make it survive. That’s what makes the difference.”

- Wangari Maathai (environmental activist, first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004)

There are many things that individuals can do to help stop the catastrophic effects of climate change. These include everything from making changes to how we live our lives or taking action in our local communities to persuading governments to make high-level policy changes and act on them. You can find lots of resources on the Internet that suggest things you might do. Here are just a few: