Glasgow in deep water


Credit: Rhiannon Doherty

Kristy Leeds

Are you reading this in Glasgow? What if I told you that in 50 years, it is very likely that the building you are in right now will be flooded? Well, for starters, I don’t think you would believe me, but daughtingly, this could be the new reality for Scotland’s largest city.

In the last few weeks and months, it appears that some of us have been awakened from our blissful consumerist lifestyles, by things like the blue planet 2 documentary and the most recent IPCC report (that if you’re a geography student, gets a mention every lecture). The dramatic clips and shocking headlines have certainly gained traction on social media and most people are starting to understand the huge implications for humanity, if we continue to live the way we do. It’s very easy to become removed from this, when the future seems so far off, but shockingly, as new research shows, Glasgow is one of the major “danger zones” of sea level rise in the UK.

It was commonly believed for years, that isostatic rebound meant land in Scotland was rising, as it was no longer under the weight of glaciers; but now the rate at which sea level is rising has exceeded this rebound, and Glasgow is in trouble. The fact is, by 2100, Glasgow could be seeing an increase in flooding by 77%, due to climate change stimulating an increasing amount of rainfall and more frequent extreme weather. As we all know, it floods in many areas of Glasgow virtually every year anyway, so this is not something anyone welcomes, none less so than the poor.

The poorest areas of Glasgow get systematically worse off every time there is flooding. Poorer people are statistically more likely to live on land susceptible to flooding (due to the lower house prices), hence they often find themselves trapped in a cycle of loss and recovery, constantly battling against floods when they happen. With more flooding, this will only get worse. This idea is called the risk-poverty nexus, but usually is applied to less developed countries, for example, Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is a perfect example of how our lifestyles here have had a global impact on sea level rise. It’s a country that has always suffered from intense monsoon rains causing flooding, however with sea levels rising and warmer summers increasing the amount of Himalayan melt water flowing into rivers, Bangladesh is at a point of crisis. 17.6% of Bangladeshis are below the poverty line and an estimated 30 million people will be affected by future flooding, many ultimately choosing to migrate to India in order to survive.

In Glasgow, the most at risk areas of inland flooding are Kirkintilloch, Paisley and Johnstone and, in total, 75 square-kilometres and 302,065 properties are at risk. Glasgow, Edinburgh and Falkirk alone account for 38% of the inland fluvial flood risk, meaning they are the most likely areas in Scotland to be flooded by rivers bursting their banks.

All hope is not lost. The “Climate-Ready-Clyde” group have planned into the future, how to reduce losses from flooding. Key priorities are protecting hospitals and social care estates that are at risk and currently the group are constructing a framework to manage flood risk from rivers. They’re also suggesting better physical and natural flood defences, more air conditioning and ventilation systems, greater tree cover, use of green roofs, and wind barriers on bridges to help adapt to the new climatic conditions.

All of this however, depends on funding and how much of a priority this becomes for local councils. As the impacts are relatively far away, it is unlikely there will be all the funding needed, as often it will be allocated to urgent needs. If anything, I hope this article shows how action is needed now. 50 years is not so far away and, ultimately, nothing can be done now to stop the flooding. Glasgow councils need to do right by their people, especially their most vulnerable, and do something about it soon, before the water gets too deep.