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Climate change

24/03/2008

In real estate, it has always been about 'location, location'. However, a few decades down the global warming route, premium-location frontline beach property may be a somewhat less attractive proposition. And that's only part of the story. Chartered Surveyor Campbell Ferguson, of Survey Spain, recently addressed the Marbella Business Institute on the effects of climate change in this corner of Spain.

When Campbell Ferguson carries out a house survey and the property is frontline beach, it ticks a very large box. For decades, a beachfront location has been a plus point for buyers seeking a mortgage. The house is in a sought-after area - very re-saleable, so a 'safe bet' for a loan. However, Campbell envisages a time, in the not too distant future, when that tick will become a cross, as rising sea levels bring greater risk of winter storm damage, rising damp, flooding and land and structural erosion. Frontline beach may no longer be a safe bet.

Higher sea levels could also back up rivers, increasing the risk of flooding in inland areas. "Residents of frontline beach and low-level riverside properties will have to seriously consider what defences can be created to prevent them being overwhelmed, says Campbell. "According the Climate Change authorities, it's not a matter of if, but when. Apparently there's an Antarctic glacier the size of Texas heading for the sea seven times faster than when it was recorded 20 years ago, and when it gets there it will raise sea levels by 25 centimetres. That's just one glacier. If sea levels were to rise by one metre, then front line properties could become the wave break for current second line. This will be taken into account by money lenders and you only need one bank to change its way of thinking and the rest will follow suit," he says

It's a grim thought that future buyers would do well to reflect on when choosing a location, advises Campbell. And there are other considerations. Forecasts of rising temperatures and reduced rainfall in southern Spain could leave rural areas high and dry, unless there is better water distribution. Says Campbell, who studied ecology as part of his training as a land economist and keeps his own weather station at home to record temperatures and rainfall, comments: "Those of us who have been here for a number of years will have noted that wells that have never failed have now had to be deepened, or closed off as 'dry'. As the aquifers' water pressure reduces, there is the increasing risk of water backing up from the sea, contaminating supplies, as happened during the drought of the mid 1990s. Although desalination plants can benefit coastal areas, there will be increasing restrictions on them as they are significant energy users, and it will not be economically practical to distribute water pipelines inland. All home owners could be enforced to construct rain storage tanks within their properties and there will be greater restrictions on sinking wells into the aquifers so that they are not drained too low."

This, coupled with costly regulations that are bound to be introduced to limit the production of C02 and save energy (solar powered transport and heating, prohibitive taxes on high-energy-consumption products) could turn property in more remote rural areas, considered so charming today, into "white elephants", warns Campbell. "It could mean that people will have to live in closer-knit communities where they can more affordably share resources," says Campbell.

Building design would also have to change. "In new developments, water use and availability will be an increasingly significant element in local authorities' decision-making. Construction will be influenced by demand for properties that are more self-sufficient and economical in energy. Urbanisations will have to be built using more local materials that do not have to be shipped from abroad. They will need to make use of climate through solar or geothermal energy, and have their own water supply."

Meanwhile, taxes on travel could make trips abroad a luxury for the wealthy and privileged few, having an impact on one of Spain's most lucrative imports - tourists.

"Government and social pressures are already being seen with taxes on long-haul air fares. Sweden has introduced such a tax, which has resulted in the Canary Islands being discriminated against as a long-haul route. Socially, it will become less acceptable to jet backwards and forwards between one's holiday home and permanent residence. In addition, cruising could be affected as recent reports have declared that the environmental effect of ships is much worse per passenger than jet flights. Car use, too, is going to become more expensive and may be restricted in the future. Tourism, as we know it today, may have reached its peak" Higher temperatures could also make the Costa del Sol less attractive for summer holidays and there could be a reduction in demand for seasonal rentals and hotels.

However, Campbell is anxious to stress that it's not all doom and gloom. "I have great faith in the human race's ability to adapt to change but we must do it now, not just for our children's future, but for our own. For example, if we stop all carbon emissions today apparently it will still be another 500 years before what we've already produced is used up. And for that to happen, there would need to be big changes," he says, such as:

  • A ban on all cars other than those that are electrically powered, with that sourced from wind/solar/geothermal-power. Instead of 4x4s, "feet, bike or horse would become the new off-road vehicles." Plug-in hybrids to be used for official business only, such as police and emergency services. "Driving could become for the minority who can afford both the vehicle and the solar panels to feed it."
  • No more natural gas, oil or any carbon source for heating or power, with all energy being electrical, which would be generated by solar, wind, wave or geothermal sources. Much more will be generated locally, even down to each building being independent.
  • A reversion from big road haulage trucks to electric goods trains.
  • A massive global education campaign to stop anything being burnt.
  • Worldwide, the conversion to electrical power will result in localised fuel shortages, continued local deforestation, also disease as environmental services are lost.

On the positive side, he believes that climate change "opens up substantial business opportunities. "There will be huge scope for the creation of electricity by natural means, and for industries that do not rely on gas, create carbon or need lots of water."

One small example is finding alternatives to the massive market for bottled water. "A single bottle is reported as having the same negative environmental impact as driving a car for a kilometre," says Campbell. "Direct filtering of tap water has 1,000 times less effect."

"On balance I feel that Andalucía and our lifestyle here should be able to continue to be attractive and even more favoured. However, there is no doubt that we are coming to the end of an era. There will be change, but there has always been change and, fortunately, man is an inventive creature and will cope with it - and probably make some money out of it too!

Copyright
Campbell D Ferguson
F.R.I.C.S. Chartered Surveyor
Survey Spain
00 34 952 923 520

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