Coastal flooding to cost $14 trillion worldwide


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USA TODAY

Story Highlights

  • “A warming climate is driving sea-level rise because water expands as it warms, and glaciers are melting.”
  • Floods that occur once every 100 years now will occur once every 10 years in 2100.
  • The global population exposed to coastal flooding could be up to 287 million by 2100.

Coastal flooding linked to climate change could cost trillions of dollars and affect hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. and around the world by the end of the century, a study published Thursday suggests.

In fact, researchers found that coastal flooding events could threaten assets worth up to $14.2 trillion worldwide, which is one-fifth of the global gross domestic product.

This will occur unless measures are taken to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that lead to global warming – or coastal defenses are constructed to stop the flooding.

“A warming climate is driving sea-level rise because water expands as it warms, and glaciers are melting,” lead author and University of Melbourne PhD candidate Ebru Kirezci said in a statement. “Climate change is also increasing the frequency of extreme seas, which will further increase the risk of flooding.”

Floods that occur once every 100 years could now occur once every 10 years in 2100, the research showed, mainly as a result of sea-level rise. 

“What the data and our model is saying is that compared with now, what we see as a 1-in-100-year extreme flood event will be 10 times more frequent because of climate change,” Kirezci said.

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The authors also suggest that the global population exposed to coastal flooding could be up to 287 million by 2100, which is 4.1% of the world’s population.

The areas predicted to be most impacted by flooding are portions of the eastern U.S., northwest Europe, southeast and east Asia, and northern Australia, according to the new research.

In the U.S., the coasts of North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland are most at risk, the study found.

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Researchers combined data on global sea levels during extreme storms with projections of sea-level rises under different greenhouse-gas emission scenarios. The analysis is based on a climate scenario where carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere continue to rise rapidly.

“We are attempting to understand the magnitude of the global scale impacts of future coastal flooding,” Ian Young, a professor at the University of Melbourne and an author of the study, told CNBC.

“Globally we need to understand that changes of this nature will occur by 2100 and we need to plan how we are going to respond,” he said. 

The study admitted that in many locations, coastal defenses are commonly deployed and by 2100, “it is expected that adaptation and specifically hard protection will be widespread, hence these estimates need to be seen as illustrations of the scale of adaptation needed to offset risk.” 

But not all areas can adapt: “Our research shows that large parts of communities residing in low-lying coastal areas are at risk of being devastated so we need urgent action. Vulnerable areas need to start building coastal defenses, we need to increase our preparedness, and we need to be following strategies to mitigate climate change,” Kirezci said.

The study appeared in the peer-reviewed British journal Scientific Reports.

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