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Reflections On UK Sea-Level Rise Reflect Poorly On The IPCC

It has long been the practice of the world’s climate alarmists to promote fear about the future in terms of anthropogenic-CO2-induced increases in various types of climatic extremes. As noted by Lee (2011), for example, “in 1990 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggested that, for a ‘business-as-usual’ greenhouse gas forcing scenario, global sea level could rise by 8-29 cm by 2030 and 31-110 cm by 2100,” as reported by Houghton et al. (1990), which report also stated that “even with substantial decreases in the emissions of greenhouse gases, future rises in sea level were unavoidable owing to ‘lags in the climate system’.” And he also noted that “the Second World Climate Conference (Jager and Ferguson, 1991) reached similar conclusions, which in the case of the British Isles was that there could be a [sea level] rise of between 50 and 70 cm over the next 100 years.”

Noting that “the IPCC projections set the framework for the coastal policy response to sea-level rise in England and Wales,” which was developed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF, 1991), Lee says it was widely predicted that the expected relative sea-level rise (RSLR) would result in an increase in wave energy at the base of coastal cliffs that would lead to accelerated cliff recession that “inevitably would lead to increased risk to properties behind actively retreating cliff-lines,” adding that Bray and Hooke (1997) suggested that “significant increases in recession rate could be expected to occur,” as their analysis pointed towards “a 22-133% increase in cliff recession rates on the south coast of England by 2050.”

As a result of these projections, Lee decided to analyze the most recent 50-year recession records of the United Kingdom’s Holderness Cliffs, stating that “twenty years on from the IPCC First Assessment Report seems an appropriate moment to reflect on what has actually happened.” So what did he find?

As Lee describes it, “relative sea level has risen over the second half of the 20th century,” and “so have Holderness cliff recession rates, from around 1.2 m/year in the early 1950s to around 1.5 m/year by 2000.” However, as he continues, “there has been no significant acceleration in the rate of global sea-level rise since 1990 and no rapid increase in the recession rate.” Thus, he states that “predictions of 20-year recession distances made in the early 1990s that took account of the RSLR advice from MAFF (1991) are likely to have overestimated the risk to cliff-top property and the benefits of coast protection.”

In a candid expression of his feelings after conducting his analysis, Lee writes that “as someone who was heavily involved in providing technical support to policymakers through the research and development of methods for predicting cliff recession that took account of RSLR (see Lee et al., 2001; Hall et al., 2000; Lee and Clark, 2002; Lee, 2005), I feel somewhat awkward about the absence of accelerated cliff recession over the last two decades,” acknowledging that “perhaps we were all too keen to accept the unquestioned authority of the IPCC and their projections.” Thus, he ends by stating “I am left with the feeling that a healthy skepticism of the climate change industry might not be such a bad thing,” suggesting that people see, in this regard, the report of the Nongovernmental Panel on Climate Change that was edited by Idso and Singer (2009).

Sherwood, Keith and Craig Idso


Bray, M.J. and Hooke, J.M. 1997. Prediction of soft-cliff retreat wit accelerating sea-level rise. Journal of Coastal Research 13: 453-467.

Hall, J.W., Lee, E.M. and Meadowcroft, I.C. 2000. Risk-based assessment of coastal cliff protection. Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Water and Maritime Engineering 142: 127-139.

Houghton, J.T., Jenkins, G.J. and Ephraums, J.J. (Eds.). 1990. Climate Change: The IPPC Scientific Assessment. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Idso, C.D. and Singer, S.F. (Eds.). 2009. Climate Change Reconsidered: 2009 Report of the Nongovernmental Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC). The Heartland Institute, Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Jager, J. and Ferguson, H.L. (Eds.). 1991. Climate Change: Science, Impacts and Policy. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Lee, E.M. 2005. Coastal cliff recession risk: a simple judgment based model. Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology 38: 89-104.

Lee, E.M. 2011. Reflections on the decadal-scale response of coastal cliffs to sea-level rise. Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology 44: 481-489.

Lee, E.M. and Clark, A.R. 2002. Investigation and Management of Soft Rock Cliffs. Thomas Telford, London, United Kingdom.

Lee, E.M., Hall, J.W. and Meadowcroft, I.C. 2001. Coastal cliff recession: the use of probabilistic prediction methods. Geomorphology 40: 253-269.

MAFF. 1991. Advice on Allowances for Sea Level Rise. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, London, United Kingdom.

CO2 Science Magazine, 12 December 2011