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Europe’s airports at risk of permanent closure due to floods

Europe’s airports risk a watery grave, as the ‘cost of inaction’ debate heats up

In a report for Euractive News, Sam Morgan reports on the danger from rising sea levels to some European airports

The future lies with quieter, cleaner aircraft like the Boeing 787 (Qantas)

More than 20 of Europe’s airports could be underwater by the end of the century if current climate trends continue. The prospect of economic and even security chaos is starting to drive home the message that the cost of doing nothing will outweigh the price of climate action. Business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions mean that a global sea-level rise of one metre is possible, according to the UN’s expert panel on climate change. Even sticking to the Paris Agreement’s lower-tier two degrees celsius temperature target risks a half-metre rise. Coastal communities, animal habitats and even entire countries, like the Marshall Islands and Kiribati, could be wiped off the map as melting glaciers and sea ice increase the likelihood of flooding. Infrastructure like ports, roads and rail would be affected, as well as airports, many of which are located near large bodies of waters away from built-up areas. The need to build on large, flat, open-spaces also makes them particularly vulnerable to changes in sea level.

According to data crunched by the World Resources Institute (WRI), 80 airports worldwide could be underwater if current trends continue. Forty-four might face the same fate even if global warming is curbed at two degrees. In Europe, Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport and Newcastle are among 23 hubs that could be underwater in a one-metre-rise scenario. Glasgow and Rotterdam’s airports are also at risk. The WRI used maps from Climate Central to compile its findings but it should be pointed out that the charts do not take into account flood defence systems, like those deployed extensively, and at great cost, by the Dutch government.

Airports around the world have already fallen foul of powerful weather events linked to climate change. In 2012, some of the busiest hubs on the US east coast were inundated by Hurricane Sandy, leading to an estimated $200 million in losses. In 2018, Japan’s Kansai Airport near Osaka, which is built on an artificial island, was almost completely flooded because of a typhoon. Flights were cancelled for two days and planes were damaged by seawater. But the issue of how to include climate damages or even the cost of inaction in policy making is still a tricky one to solve. For national or regional lawmakers, the fact that the climate and weather do not respect boundaries plays a significant role in attributing responsibility.