BBC World News - Horizons

An Insight into the Future of Global Business

In Association with


Adam Shaw


Adam Shaw is now one of the most recognisable faces of business journalism on television following two years of presenting Horizons on BBC World News. He was already a well known face – and voice – in the UK, presenting the award winning Working Lunch on BBC 2, as well as being lead business presenter on Radio 4’s Today programme,  one of the most significant news and current affairs programmes in the UK. He also often reports for BBC1’s Panorama - the longest running current affairs programme in the world.

Adam is the author of a number of books on politics and finance and has won the accolade of Broadcaster of the Year from both The Plain English Campaign and the ABI, which represents major investors and insurers, amongst other awards. He is an avid Tweeter and blogger.

In addition to his passion for demystifying the complicated world of finances and business, Adam has a keen interest in the theatre and, as a young actor, even spent a season at the Royal Shakespeare Company!

Holding back the waves

One of the biggest environmental worries is the rising sea level which is now threatening many coastal cities. Across the globe the seas could be rising up to meet us.

The aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, perhaps the most powerful storm on record to make landfall anywhere in the world, is a clear warning of the power of the weather and the elements to wreak havoc and destruction on us.

The power of the environment to attack our cities is one of the most worrying facing the world, not least because despite the immense threat it poses, there is little, in the short run, that we seem able to do to combat it.

One of the biggest environmental worries is the rising sea level which is now threatening many coastal cities. Across the globe, the seas could be rising up to meet us.

This will have huge consequences for our coastal cities. If we do not want the forced resettlement of millions, we are going to need some radical new solutions.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted a sea-level rise of between 18 and 59 centimetres by 2100. This could affect up to 634 million people who now live in low-lying coastal areas across the globe.

More than 180 countries have populations in those zones, and two thirds of those have urban areas of more than five million people that are under threat.

Our usual response to threats of any kind is a demonstration of force and power. We fight attacks with weapons. We fight crime with police and harder criminal punishments.

You can therefore understand why we are stumped to find an immediate response to an environmental threat.

Our natural reaction to a threat is to fight. But how do you fight wind and water?

Where our natural instinct is to do something bold, the argument of environmentalists that we should do the opposite – do less, make less, travel less, emit less – makes for hard reading.

Because we like to do something bold, one response to rising sea levels and the threat of bigger storms and storm surges, has been to hold back the waves with hard engineering schemes made of concrete and steel.

But flood defence barriers and storm drains do not come cheap and it is impossible to shore up thousands of kilometres of coastline globally.

So many coastal cities are going against the natural human grain and are increasingly turning to natural solutions, so-called soft engineering schemes, that redesign waterfronts to incorporate wetlands, oyster beds and other natural features.

I flew to New York, the emotional heartland of the skyscraper and of all things big, brash, steel and shiny, to discuss how the soft approach to combating the elements might ironically be the most effective.

Stephen Cassell is a New York architect who has designed an approach he hopes will influence town planning in New York. Rather than protect the city with hard defences, his idea is to use nature to build its own protective barrier.

If you build wetlands, beaches and marshes around the coastal regions, you are effectively building a sponge which not only absorbs the water but gradually lessens the impact of any waves of tidal attack on the city.

A common rule of thumb, I am told, is that a wetland extending 14.5 kilometres out to sea will reduce the height of a storm surge by a metre.

The argument for the soft solution is not just about the effectiveness of the water barriers, it is also about the quality of life. You can walk on top of a concrete sea barrier but there is a limit to how enjoyable that is.

But if you build wetlands and beaches you introduce new wildlife and new environments which not only work to protect the city but improve the city as well. They offer people new things to enjoy and enhancements to their daily lives. It may not sound like a great rallying cry but it is heartening to know that brute force architecture can sometimes be beaten by pretty, sympathetic natural designs.

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