The cliffside dotted with luxury homes in Carry-le-Rouet, in the south of France, is fast eroding. The local town council, arguing that fair use should be made of public money, is refusing to fund stabilisation works.

Can humanity rise to the challenge of finding just solutions to the threat of coastal erosion?

How long will the fight last? Water is eroding land all over the world, threatening people’s lives and livelihoods, especially those living along the coastline. According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the oceans and cryosphere in a changing climate, sea levels, globally, are expected to rise by between 0.61 and 1.1 metres by 2100 – as a combined result of melting icecaps and waters expanding as their temperatures rise. In addition to the plight of the island nations disappearing beneath the waves, as in the Pacific, all low-lying communities near the sea are at risk, particularly from coastal flooding after major weather events.

Hurricane Katrina engulfed New Orleans in 2005; the streets and subways of New York were left flooded after Hurricane Sandy in 2012; Bangkok was knee-deep in water for months in 2011. With the rise in sea levels, events like these are set to multiply over the coming years. The IPPC report insists that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at the current rate, extreme events of the kind usually experienced once a century could be seen every year. And the number of people affected is set to rise: 680 million people live in coastal areas less than 10 metres above sea level. According to the IPCC, that figure could rise to a billion by 2050.

The scientific community is unanimous in its assertion that climate change is a key factor in the escalation of coastal flooding. But it would be simplistic to attribute sole responsibility for this danger to the climate. “The spectre of climate change is very convenient,” says Cécilia Claeys, a sociologist at Aix-Marseille University in France.

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