April 10, 2007 / 1:43 PM / 12 years ago

Building boom fuels climate risk at Spain's beaches

MADRID (Reuters) - Rapid construction of homes and hotels along Spain’s shoreline means its beaches stand a greater risk of disappearing as climate change brings higher sea levels and more coastal erosion, officials said on Tuesday.

Sea levels are expected to rise about 44 centimetres (20 inches) in Europe by the end of the century, wave direction and energy will change, Arturo Gonzalo Aizpiri, the government’s secretary general for the prevention of climate change, said.

Spain’s Mediterranean and Cantabrian coastlines are most at risk, climate change predictions show.

“We are likely to see beaches retreating by 20 to 40 metres depending on the area,” he told a news conference to present the findings of the latest United Nations report on climate change.

Jose Manuel Moreno, of the University of Castilla La Mancha and part of the U.N. working group that published the report last week, also said construction stopped sand from shifting inland to form new beaches.

“Deltas and estuaries which cannot move backwards are also very vulnerable,” he said.

More than 50 million tourists visit Spain every year, most of them seeking sun and sand.

Spain’s urban area increased by 25 percent between 1990 and 2000 alone and the rate has shown little sign of slowing since. The coastal provinces of Malaga, Barcelona and Alicante have already built on more than 50 percent of their coastline.

Much of the new construction in coastal areas is to meet demand for holiday or retirement homes, often for sun-seeking northern Europeans.

As global temperatures rise in coming decades because of the build up of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels in the atmosphere, scientists expect polar ice sheets to melt, bringing rising sea levels and possible changes to ocean currents.

There will be more frequent storms and floods and in southern Europe significantly less rain, Moreno said.

Delicate Mediterranean ecosystems are at risk of disappearing and governments should increase the areas of protected land to help preserve wildlife, he said.

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