How is Climate Change Affecting the Isle of Man?
As the global climate continues to shift, its effects are becoming increasingly evident in countries around the world. The Isle of Man is no exception. From changing temperatures to rising sea levels, the impacts of climate change on our Island will demand urgent attention and impact all aspects of life.
Some of the key impacts on our society, infrastructure and environment include:
1. Increased flooding
Climate change in the UK is leading to an increased frequency and severity of flooding events. Rising sea levels, heavier and more frequent rainfall (such as that experienced this year), and more intense storms contribute to higher flood risks, affecting both coastal and inland regions. As the atmosphere warms it holds more moisture; around 7% for each degree meaning that we will have more rain. This poses significant threats to infrastructure, homes, and livelihoods. The independent review that followed the flooding in Laxey in 2019 found that potential floods impact directly on over 10% of the Island’s population and 4,000 properties; with crucial assets also at risk, including schools, GP surgeries and major roads. The report forecasts a cost of £900m in potential flood damages on the Island over this century.
2. Coastal erosion
With rising sea levels and stronger storm surges, coastal erosion is becoming a pressing concern. Iconic landmarks, historical sites, and communities along the British coast are at risk of disappearing due to the encroaching sea, such as the dramatic scenes in Norfolk in November 2023, where a 200-metre stretch of road collapsed into the sea after high tides and strong winds. The Kirk Michael coastline is one such area experiencing erosion on the Island, which is being closely monitored by the Department of Infrastructure.
3. Changing ecosystems
From woodlands to wetlands, our ecosystems are under strain due to the shifting climate. Native species face challenges as they struggle to adapt to this rapid pace of change, including altered temperatures, reduced food supplies, pressures from predation and pests, and habitat changes. With the risk of species extinction increasing with every degree of warming, it is critical to appreciate how our nature and climate crises are inextricably linked: climate change drives biodiversity loss, but we also depend on biodiversity for climate solutions. Read more about the impacts on our local flora and fauna in Manx Wildlife Trust’s blog for Net Zero Isle of Man.
Read more about the impact of climate change on wildlife on the Isle of Man or watch a webinar 'Climate Change - Impact on Mann' presented by Adrian Cowin, Isle of Man Met Office and Sarah Hickey, Isle of Man Manx Wildlife Trust.
4. Impacts on food production
Erratic weather patterns, including unpredictable rainfall and temperatures, affect all aspects of agricultural production, including crop yields and harvesting, livestock health and management, and field access. The latest assessment of the UK’s progress in adapting to climate change found that no agriculture and food sectors are well adapted to these risks. On the Island, our farmers faced a prolonged dry spell in June 2023 followed by the wettest July on record, making it difficult to grow crops reliably. These issues are impacting producers on a global scale, with climate change presenting the single biggest threat to food security. As over 90% of the Island’s food is imported – with most fresh produce such as fruit and vegetables coming from abroad – this may have a significant impact on the availability of food imported to the Island.
5. HEALTH CONCERNS
The climate emergency has been identified as a ‘health emergency’ by the NHS, with direct and indirect impacts on public health through the effects of extreme weather, changes to natural systems and impacts on social systems. For example, changing weather patterns can influence the spread of vector-borne diseases and rising temperatures can lead to heat-related illnesses. Additionally, air quality may deteriorate due to increased pollen levels and more frequent wildfires. The summer temperatures in England in 2022 triggered the highest level of the UK’s Heat-Health-Alert system for the first time ever; in a year where more 2,900 people in the UK were killed by heatwaves.
6. DISRUPTION TO TRANSPORT AND INFRASTRUCTURE
More frequent and intense storm events will impact routes on and off the Island, whether flying or travelling by boat – further impacting imports and exports of food and goods. Variability in weather also impacts the performance of the Island’s infrastructure: increased summer temperatures risk the overheating of transport infrastructure and the disruption of IT and communications services. More extreme rainfall and flooding can impact power supplies as well as water and transport infrastructure, placing additional pressures on the delivery of essential services by these sectors.
7. WATER SCARCITY
Hotter summers and less predictable rainfall will result in increased drought risk and possible water shortages, leading to concerns around the availability of public water supplies. The extremely dry period in July 2022 forced Manx Utilites to introduce a temporary use ban, which lasted until the September. Such water shortages have an additional impact on rivers which depend on compensation flows provided by Sulby Reservoir, and the species which live in them. Measures will need to be taken to better conserve water from rainfall in the winter, and to plan for more resilient water resource capacity. This will include reducing our water consumption per capita, which is around double that per person than the UK.
8. RISK OF WILDFIRES
The risk of wildfires on the Isle of Man is increasing. During hot weather, vegetation dries out and creates a ready supply of fuel, and water resources, which would otherwise be available to extinguish fires, may be at lower levels. Combined with high winds and the high fuel loads presented by drained peatlands, heath and plantations, the potential for a wildfire to spread out of control on the Island is high. Such an event is a risk to life, as well as to the loss or damage of property and habitats, and the release of huge amounts of stored carbon (particularly on the uplands). Careful land management that reduces these fuel loads is essential for reducing wildfire risk, as well as effective public education and ensuring that our services and responders are well equipped to deal with such incidents.
The effects of climate change are already being experienced on the Island, with potentially far-reaching consequences for our society and environment. These risks are about to be independently researched and verified, through an Island-wide assessment looking at five key areas: natural environment; health and communities; built environment; infrastructure; and economy. This will help us understand how to adapt to our changing climate, mitigate further damage, and transition towards sustainable practices and a more resilient future for the Island and the planet.