Recent research on sea level rise and climate change – what you need to know

Ranyl Rhydwen, a lecturer in CAT’s Graduate school of the Environment on the MSc Sustainability and Adaptation in the Built Environment, drills into the science of sea level rises and looks into the future. First posted by Sustain Magazine:

Humanity has already introduced enough CO2 into the atmosphere to raise the earth’s temperature by 4-6°C. This heat is being added at a rate approximately 300 times faster than when the earth’s ice sheets previously melted; past melt rates are therefore likely to provide low and conservative projections for the future. The earth’s remaining ice sheets contain 70 metres of sea level rise; with 40 metres of that being land locked in the East Antarctic Ice sheet that won’t melt unless CO2 reaches levels of >1000ppm. However the remaining 30m from Greenland, Western Antarctic Ice Sheet and the below sea level EAIS have all previously melted away when CO2 concentration levels were only 400-425ppm (April 2014 level 400ppm). A 30 metre sea level rise involves 50% of humanity, nearly all the world’s mega cities and large swathes of prime agricultural land. Sea levels will take thousands of years to fully rise, however 20 metres is inevitable and 30 metres probable. This needs planning for now as any manmade barrier is very unlikely to be able to cope with a 5 metre rise.

How fast will the melt occur?

Melt rates of up to 4 metres per century have previously occurred and although it is felt it would take the collapse of a major ice sheet to induce this 4 metre rate again, 1-2 metres per century is common, making the IPCC 80 cm projection by 2100 misguided considering the stakes involved. The 4m melt pulses occur due to the collapse of the marine based ice sheets. These ice sheets melt slowly at first as the glaciers get snagged on ocean bed ridges but once free of these ridges, they suddenly (after 200-1000 years) collapse in a process called rapid irreversible marine instability. These ice sheets are particularly vulnerable as they are melted from below by warm deep ocean waters lubricating the glacial flow and due to ocean dynamics warm waters (~3.5°C) currently bathe most of Greenland’s and Antarctica’s marine outlet glaciers.

The discovery that the Amundsen Sea outlet sea glaciers (that drain a third of the WAIS equivalent to 1.2 metres of sea level rise) have developed marine instability (i.e. they will now completely melt away) and are melting at an accelerating rate (30% greater than just 5 years ago) makes 4 metres a century look much more probable. Models suggest that this collapse is irreversible but may take 200-1000 years, however they didn’t account for the inevitable further warming of the melting waters. The last time Greenland, WAIS and parts of EAIS melted (120,000 years ago) melt rates of approximately 2 metres sea level rise per century occurred. The recent finding that the marine based glaciers draining the North East of Greenland (16% of it) have suddenly started rapidly melting and that the Fjords draining Greenland are much wider and extend further inland than previously thought all means that 4 metres in a century is again more likely. Therefore the recent evidence suggests that although 30 metres is the final outcome it is unlikely to occur by 2100, however 1-2 metres is virtually certain, 4-5 metres probable and greater amounts can’t be excluded.

Thus a large proportion of humanity is under direct threat from this sea level rise. The USA military are planning tactical retreat, however moving an army base is not moving a city (London), a state (Florida) or a country (Bangladesh). The first step in adapting to sea level rise is to slow it down and reduce its magnitude and the only way to do that is to remove (bio-sequester) carbon from the atmosphere and getting to 350ppm still means a 20-25 metre sea level rise and require a massive increase in mitigation efforts, which will take a transformation of societal systems to achieve. Adaptation and mitigation therefore need to be considered together. Adapting to sea level rise will mean more than building a sea wall as concrete barriers will have large carbon costs and will be overtopped eventually putting future generations at greater risk.

It seems we need to think again and take the approach of planned retreat, combined with innovative developments that embed humanity’s community into the new ecosystems and create new settlements that are robust to the extreme weather whilst sequestering carbon into the materials used to create them. That radical approach will take a transformation scale of change and the widespread uptake of progressive adaptation planning and is why here at Centre for Alternative Technology, we are putting transformational adaptation into the heart of our sustainability learning and teachings to help understand how to creatively approach the task that sea level rise imposes.

Postgraduate Open Weekend: 17th- 18th May 2014

If you are an avid reader of CAT’s blog you will be well aware of the range of MSc Programmes offered by our Graduate School of the Environment. This May we are offering the opportunity for anybody interested in studying one of our courses, or anyone who wants to know more about the work of the GSE, to come and visit us to find out more about the unique experience of studying at CAT.

Based in a stunning setting in the Welsh hills, the Centre has been providing sustainability education for over 35 years and offers a range of inspirational postgraduate programmes. A unique combination of leading professionals, academics and authors teach and lead the the courses, offering GSE students the ability to develop not only their theoretical and academic knowledge, but also their practical skills.

Our two day event is no ordinary open day, with leading researchers sharing their work on climate change adaptation, practical activities on site led by students and an evening of pizza and entertainment, it promises to be a memorable and inspiring weekend that gives prospective students real insight into the experience of studying with the GSE.

The Open Weekend will showcase elements of our MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment course, as well as providing a first look at some of the issues and topics covered by our brand new MSc Sustainability and Adaptation in the Built Environment and MSc Sustainability and Adaptation: Transformation Planning courses.


  • Our programmes are designed to equip our graduates with the skills required to work in a sector of increasing importance and relevance and with high demand for skilled individuals.
  • The graduate school is a recognised CPD provider and its MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment is accredited by the Energy Institute.
  • Flexibility is at the heart of our unique on-site courses; students come on periodic 5 days attendances at the GSE, which could allow students to continue with their current line of work while studying.
  • The distance learning course uses a highly interactive, modern virtual learning environment with flexible contact times and high levels of student-tutor interaction.
  • All courses benefit from a diverse and experienced student community unlike anywhere in the UK.

Graduates from the programme can look forward to careers in a large architectural practice, local government, government departments, commercial companies, and within the education sector. Over fifty companies have been formed by alumni of the Graduate School of the Environment (GSE). Alumni include Stirling Prize nominees, members of government advisory panels, respected academics, authors, and award winning designers and contractors.

But don’t just take our word for it; come and see for yourself!

For more information on attending the Open Weekend, please contact

If you would like to take the opportunity to stay in one of our lovely WISE rooms on the night of Saturday May 17th, please contact for prices and a booking form.

The IPCC calls for Transformational Adaptation in every community. Now let’s get on with the job.

By Ranyl Rhydwen and Kit Jones

Headlines from the IPCC report released today are echoing around the world; climate change is real and affecting all areas of the globe.  If we fail to rise to the challenge the IPCC is clear about the consequences: food and fresh water supply will be threatened, ecosystems will be disrupted, there will be more extreme weather events and health problems will increase. In the context of inequality, climate change will exacerbate poverty, malnutrition and potentially conflict and migration too. The impacts will be different in different regions and the most economically vulnerable face the most extreme consequences, but everyone on the planet is likely to be impacted in some way. Many already are.

Map from the new report showing global climate change impacts

Though the report provides more detail and evidence of these effects of climate change, the picture is in many ways familiar to those who were already concerned about the issue. The new proposition that this report loudly makes, however, is “transformational adaptation”. It is a phrase that will no doubt become increasingly common in discussion of how we respond to climate change.

Transformational adaptation is a new approach that sensibly integrates mitigation (how we prevent climate change) and adaptation (how we live with it) under one umbrella and looks for solutions that can contribute to both – rather than forms of adaptation that exacerbate the causes of climate change or visa versa.

The new report also emphasises transformational change; change that is radical and happens at the level of technological, political and economic systems. This theme was hinted at in another less high profile report by the IPCC last year, the SREX report, but has been brought to the forefront in this latest report, which says

Transformations in economic, social, technological, and political decisions and actions can enable climate-resilient pathways (high confidence). Strategies and actions can be pursued now that will move towards climate-resilient pathways for sustainable development, while at the same time helping to improve livelihoods, social and economic well-being, and responsible environmental management.

On a local level, transformational adaptation doesn’t mean simply applying generic solutions. Transformation plans should be developed with the participation of the community and with a sense of place. That is how communities are going to be able to increase their resilience to climate change. The new report goes on to say that

Local government and the private sector are increasingly recognized as critical to progress in adaptation, given their roles in scaling up adaptation of communities, households, and civil society and in managing risk information and financing… Decision support is most effective when it is sensitive to context and the diversity of  decision types, decision processes, and constituencies”

There is a note of caution, however, about the scope for win-win solutions that help us adapt to and mitigate climate change. The report warns how adaptation can be hindered by

limited financial and human resources; limited integration or coordination of governance; uncertainties about projected impacts; different perceptions of risks; competing values; absence of key adaptation leaders and advocates; and limited tools to monitor adaptation effectiveness. Another constraint includes insufficient research, monitoring, and observation and the finance to maintain them. Underestimating the complexity of adaptation as a social process can create unrealistic expectations about achieving intended adaptation outcomes.

The new IPCC report also says that

Opportunities to take advantage of positive synergies between adaptation and mitigation may decrease with time, particularly if limits to adaptation are exceeded. In some parts of the world, insufficient responses to emerging impacts are already eroding the basis for sustainable development.

The implication from this is therefore that transformational adaptation responses are needed now. They need to be localized for everyone yet global in purpose. They need to bring communities together to combat the common threat and ethically implement the changes needed for a sustainable society. Here at CAT we anticipated these conclusions several years ago and last month launched one of the UK’s first MSc courses focused on transformational adaptation and sustainability. The new inter-disciplinary courses bring together thinking from political science, engineering, economics and environmental sciences giving students an in-depth understanding of how to approach these changes, assess the risk and vulnerabilities involved and implement transformative strategies on a community and wider level. Adaptation transformation is radical change and requires an open, self-reflective, iterative and sharing approach, which is the ethos behind our teaching at CAT.

The evidence presented by the IPCC today is clear, radical transformational action is needed immediately. We at CAT full heartedly agree and hope that we can be the catalyst for everyone who visits to become part of that process. The goal is an equitable, fair and ecosystem sustainable society for ourselves and future generations to enjoy. It’s nothing short of a transformation of society – now let’s go out and make it.

Find out more about our new MSc in Sustainability and Adaptation or our Short Course on Transformational Adaptation for planners.

Join us next week in London to discuss the latest IPCC research and our own plan for Zero Carbon Britain (or register to watch online)

Join CAT or Donate to support our work.

Most deprived areas three times more likely to have been flooded than most well-off – Oxfam GB

A report out by Oxfam this week highlights why it is so important to have a strategy for adaptation to climate change that takes inequality into account and seeks to protect the most vulnerable. 

Flooded homes that had to be evacuated in the village of Moorland, Somerset Levels (Photo by Abbie Trayler-Smith)

The most deprived English neighbourhoods have been 3.5 times more vulnerable to flooding than the most well-off over the past quarter of a century, Oxfam revealed this week as it calls on governments to take stronger action to protect poor people from climate change.

The research commissioned by Oxfam comes after the UK’s wettest winter since records began more than 200 years ago, which saw more than 5,000 homes and thousands of hectares of farmland across England and Wales under water.

While anecdotal media stories focus on the homes hit by the latest winter floods in affluent areas areas, the analysis indicates that this was in contrast to the real picture.  It shows that almost one in five of the poorest third of neighbourhoods in England were hit by floods between 1990 and 2013. This compares to just one in 18 of the top 10 per cent.

The international agency is warning that as climate change is likely to increase the risks of flooding in the UK, the Government must act to protect vulnerable people at home as well as overseas from increasingly extreme weather and cut emissions to slow the pace of climate change.

The report comes as the IPCC meets in Japan to discuss the increased risks people will face around the globe as a result of climate change. Unless urgent action is taken to protect our food supply, climate change is likely to put back the fight against hunger by decades, according to Oxfam.

Sally Copley, Oxfam’s head of UK policy, programmes and campaigns, said: “This winter’s floods dramatically demonstrated that people in the UK will not be immune from the effects of climate change. Around the world, climate change is hitting the poorest hardest and we must make sure this doesn’t happen overseas or on our doorstep.

“Not only are poor people hurt most by extreme weather events, they are also most vulnerable to food shortages and price increases. In a world where one in eight people already go hungry we cannot afford to put off action any longer.”

Earlier this month the Centre for Alternative Technology, Mid Wales, launched a masters degree in Sustainability and Adaptation. The new MSc programme is the first in the UK to put adaptation to climate change on an equal footing with prevention. The course teaches a process called transformation planning, which enabled communities and organisations to integrate sustainability and adaptation considerations to transform the way they work. This kind of thinking is becoming increasingly urgent as the effects of climate change begin to be felt around the world.

Already this year, the worst drought in a decade has ruined crops in Brazil‘s south-eastern breadbasket, including the valuable coffee harvest. In California, the worst drought in over 100 years is decimating crops across the state, which produces almost half of all the vegetables, fruits and nuts grown in the US.

Without urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the impacts will become more serious. It is estimated there could be 25 million more malnourished children under the age of five in 2050 compared to a world without climate change – that’s the equivalent of all under-fives in the US and Canada combined.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation, due to be published on 31 March, is expected to warn that climate change will lead to declines in global agricultural yields of up to 2 per cent each decade at the same time as demand for food increases by 14 per cent per decade.  It is also expected to warn of higher and more volatile food prices. Oxfam estimates world cereal prices could double by 2030, with half of this rise driven by climate change.

More information

Help us ensure adapting to climate change doesn’t make the problem worse

Changing Planet

The other morning I cycled past a beautiful ancient oak tree, ripped from the earth in last month’s violent storms. The newspapers have been full of images of devastation from the flooded Somerset Levels. Overseas, we’ve seen extreme snow in the US, bushfires in Australia and a tropical cyclone killing 5,700 people in the Philippines.

Finally, people all over the world are waking up to the probability that climate change isn’t some abstract future threat: it is happening now, to us.

It would be easy to say ‘I told you so.’  For decades CAT and its many supporters have been warning the world about climate change and developing ways to mitigate it. But scoring points won’t save our beautiful planet. Across the world people are learning how to adapt to climate change but if we are not careful, some of those adaptations are only going to make the situation worse. We must act now to lead climate change adaptation in the right direction. We need appropriate adaptation that also addresses the root cause of the problem.

Why now?

Since 1950, the earth has warmed by 0.7°C, due to greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and other human activities. If these aren’t checked rapidly, then by 2050 what we’re experiencing now will be remembered as a mild wet period. We’d be seeing a pattern of deluges followed by droughts – which means massive social challenges as well as environmental. How are we going to protect the most vulnerable and avoid conflict when these changes really hit?

Governments are already being forced to develop adaptation strategies. But with many ‘deniers’ still in power, there’s a real risk they will do it the wrong way. Quick fix solutions to climate change, such as pouring concrete into the floors of buildings at risk of flooding, or cranking up the air conditioning in offices, would actually increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Our society must adapt sustainably and not just store up problems for the future. To achieve such a fast and radical culture change will take nothing less than a new, low carbon industrial revolution.

Why CAT?

CAT is ideally placed to develop the right kind of expertise and share the knowledge that will steer governments, organisations and individuals away from the wrong decisions and help them adapt sustainably.

For 40 years, CAT and its supporters have taught and inspired people to deliver practical, sustainable solutions. Our graduates include environmental policy advisors, local authority energy efficiency experts, architects specialising in sustainability and engineers managing renewable energy installations.

We’re launching our Changing Planet campaign to share this knowledge as widely and as fast as we can. Can you donate now to help us rise to this vital challenge?

If you can help us, here’s how we will help the world:

We’ll teach new courses, enabling change-makers to lead sustainable adaptation: From September, CAT will be teaching a series of new courses on sustainability and adaptation. We’ll teach professionals how they need to approach building, town planning, land use and water security in the light of our changing environment.

We’ll spread our message to more people by making our Eco-cabins accessible to a wider range of educational groups, improving our visitor centre and holding more conferences and distance learning courses to make our knowledge widely available.

We’ll keep inspiring research leading to new technologies: We have already won awards for our ground-breaking research into hemp – an astonishing crop which, used for building renovations, could massively reduce the UK’s energy consumption.

But we can’t do it without you.

If you can make a donation today, it will help us inspire and educate many more people.  For example, £100 could pay for one of our world-class experts to write and deliver a lecture on climate change adaptation. £2,500 could pay to put on a conference on adaptation towards climate change for 200 delegates.

Yours sincerely,

Adrian Ramsay

Incoming Chief Executive


NEWS: New Chief Executive to Lead CAT’s Refreshed Mission

The Centre for Alternative Technology has appointed a new Chief Executive to lead the charity’s work in promoting practical solutions to the effects of climate change.

Adrian Ramsay, who is a former Deputy Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales and currently a lecturer in politics and economics at CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment, will take up the post of Chief Executive on 23rd June.

Adrian Ramsay will be the chief executive of CAT from June

The news of the appointment comes in the month when CAT has celebrated its 40th birthday and announced plans to run new courses on climate change adaptation and planning for a sustainable society.

Mr Ramsay will lead the charity’s work on its refreshed mission of addressing the effects as well as the causes of climate change. CAT will be promoting, researching and teaching practical solutions to environmental challenges such as increased flooding and volatile weather patterns.

To support this work, Mr Ramsay will be tasked with leading the change to a new leadership structure to enable the organisation to increase its income and maximise the impact of its unique rigorous, independent and practical approach to addressing environmental challenges.

Adrian Ramsay said: “I’m delighted and honoured to have the opportunity to lead the work of an internationally-renowned environmental charity. I passionately believe that we can create a better world where we live in an environmentally sustainable way – for the benefit of people and planet. The huge talent we have among staff and the wider community at CAT puts us in a strong position to demonstrate and lead change.

“CAT’s unique role in researching and teaching practical environmental solutions to a changing planet is more important than ever before. The storms and floods across the UK in recent months show that climate change is already here: we need to adapt to them in environmentally sensitive ways in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change.”

Mick Taylor, Chair of Trustees for CAT, said: “On behalf of the Trustees of CAT I would like to welcome Adrian’s appointment as CEO. He comes with an excellent track record on the urgent issues of sustainability and has the experience and determination to lead CAT through a process of radical change as it celebrates 40 years of leading the field in sustainability and renews its mission in order to promote its ideas to the widest possible audience nationally and globally.”


Bio: Adrian Ramsay

Adrian Ramsay, 32, was born and brought up in Norwich. He studied at the University of East Anglia, where he gained a First Class degree in Politics and Sociology and then a Masters degree in Politics.

Mr Ramsay served as a Green City Councillor in Norwich from 2003 to 2011. He played a leading role in building up Norwich Green Party to become one of the most successful local Green Parties in the country: it has been the second largest party on Norwich City Council since 2008. Mr Ramsay was also Deputy Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales from 2008 to 2012, working alongside Caroline Lucas as the Green Party’s first formal leadership team. At the 2010 General election, he stood in the Norwich South constituency and achieved the second highest Green vote in the country.

Mr Ramsay has also worked as a consultant for the Local Government Association and more recently as a lecturer in CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment.

Mr Ramsay currently lives in Norwich with his wife Jenny. They will be moving to Wales in June.

The Work that Reconnects: spiraling towards sustainability


What makes CAT special? CAT is so many things to so many people, but in the two months I’ve volunteered here every answer to this question seems to come back to those three words: inspire, inform, enable. Last Saturday these words gained new meaning for me when I went on a bit of a personal journey through ‘The Work that Reconnects,’ a workshop at CAT based on Joanna Macy’s work and superbly facilitated by Jenny Smith and Jenni Horsfall. This was an intensely personal process, and it was inspiring to see people trust each other with their vulnerabilities – so here I’ll only be talking about my own experience. But be warned, tears were definitely involved.

If you wanted a place to be introspective and thoughtful, you could hardly do better than go to the Brook Trust room in WISE. With its big bay windows and pale ash walls, it seemed to concentrate the sunlight into a calming glow.

Unlike the Douglas fir, CAT's birch trees show the rejuvenation of native flora in the quarry

From the south facing window I could see a small Douglas fir pushing its way out of the steep slate scree: a symbol of local natural triumph just as surely as it reminded me of the global wave of human-distributed non-native species. Over the course of the day I found my eyes returning to that evergreen, as if I could call forth from its needles and the surrounding landscape a message of purpose and hope.

Because let’s be clear: from the moment we started the Work that Reconnects spiral by giving gratitude, I was kind of an emotional wreck. This spiral progresses from gratitude, to honour our pain, to seeing with new eyes, to going forth. On an intellectual level I found much to admire in these phases, but in the moment something about the group’s openness smashed down my walls of rational control and paved a road from my gooey emotional centre straight to my tear ducts. Crying off and on all day was frankly exhausting, and I’m still trying to put my learning into words. But I know the workshop helped and changed me, and I’m happy to let the answers emerge organically. In the meantime, you’ll find me reading some of Macy’s books for more inspiration – and hopefully dry-eyed.

There’s much about the workshop and the Work that Reconnects that I haven’t described here, but there’s a whole network to fill you in on the details. One exercise I found particularly useful for thinking about next steps and new projects was called “the creativity cycle,” using the seasons as a metaphor for change. This sort of thinking may not be for the faint of heart, but if you’re willing to step outside your comfort zone I highly recommend it. So many of the problems facing our world – climate change, environmental destruction, poverty, disease, war and so on – are so overwhelming in their scale and awfulness it can be hard to imagine a positive future. But feelings of panic, fear and loss are nothing new, and  the Work that Reconnects reminded me that we are not alone – and that we can turn our pain into new strength.

The 13th century Persian poet Rumi wrote a poem called “Intelligence and Tears” that Jenny read out at the beginning of the workshop. Not even Rumi had all the answers, but poetry seems to me as good a place as any to begin the final part of the spiral, the ‘going forth’ into the world again:

Till the cloud weeps, how should the garden smile?
The weeping of the cloud and the burning of the sun
are the pillars of this world: twist these two strands together.
Since the searing heat of the sun and the moisture of the clouds
keep the world fresh and sweet,
keep the sun of your intelligence burning bright and your eye glistening with tears.