Residents of Welsh Village set to become UK’s first climate refugees as soon as 2042

"This is a wake-up call for the country. This is going to happen elsewhere. Sometimes you have to see someone else go through it – we just happen to be the first."

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SOURCECommon Dreams
Image Credit: Keith Morris

Residents of a Welsh coastal village are set to become the first climate refugees in the United Kingdom.

The 850 residents of Fairbourne will meet next month to discuss a plan that the local lawmaking body, Gwynedd Council, is developing to evacuate the town by 2054 at the latest, amid concerns about rising sea levels.

Gwynedd Council determined in 2013 that defending Fairbourne from the effects of the climate crisis would not be possible in the long term. The council, along with the national agency Natural Resources Wales, funded a $6 million flood management plan over the past four years.

According to Wales Online, “there will be no money spent on defending this community of around 400 homes and 850 people after 2054,” leading the council to decide recently that decommissioning the town must be considered and that “relocating residents is a certainty.”

A relocation scheme could go into effect as early as 2042. After the town is evacuated, all buildings, roads, and utilities will be dismantled, with Fairbourne converted into a tidal salt marsh, according to The Guardian. 

“Climate change is happening, and it is unfortunately only a matter of time before it has a very real human impact on coastal communities like Fairbourne,” councillor Catrin Wager told Wales Online.

“By talking to the community sooner rather than later, our aim is to work through these difficult issues together in order to give ourselves as much time as possible to come up with viable options and the best possible solutions,” she added.

The possibility of compensation will likely be discussed at the town meeting planned for June 26. As The Guardian reported last week, Fairbourne residents are not expected to receive financial aid from the Welsh government when they are forced to leave, making them the U.K.’s first climate refugees.

A number of other coastal communities around the U.K. are likely to meet a similar fate. Both the British Parliament and Welsh lawmakers officially declared a climate emergency in recent weeks, under pressure from the global grassroots movement Extinction Rebellion – but campaigners responded promptly by ramping up pressure on government leaders to follow the declarations by taking meaningful action to solve the climate crisis and stop rising sea levels as well as other effects.

“This is a wake-up call for the country,” Bev Wilkins, who moved to Fairbourne in 2002, told The Guardian. “This is going to happen elsewhere. Sometimes you have to see someone else go through it – we just happen to be the first.”

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