Rising tides and storm surges will devastate economies and communities around the globe, if we don’t dramatically cut greenhouse-gas emissions and bolster shoreline protection.
By the end of the century, increased coastal flooding driven by swelling ocean levels will endanger more than 250 million people and nearly $13 trillion worth of coastal buildings and infrastructure, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of Melbourne. And that’s under a relatively optimistic climate-change scenario.
The findings: The research is based on modeling of tides, storm surges, wave patterns, and regional sea level rise, under various scenarios of greenhouse-gas emissions from the UN’s climate panel. The $13 trillion figure assumes no steps are taken to shore up coastlines with seawalls or other protections, and that carbon dioxide pollution peaks around 2040 and begins falling thereafter—a moderate emissions scenario.
The worst case: Under a scenario in which emissions continue to rise unchecked through the century, coastal flooding would threaten nearly 290 million people and more than $14 trillion in coastal assets—or 20% of global GDP. (Some climate researchers, however, argue that this “RCP8.5” scenario is increasingly implausible given the steps some nations have already taken to flatten emissions.)
Before then: In just 30 years, nearly 204 million people and $11 billion in assets could be exposed to coastal flooding, up 16% and 14% from today, respectively, under the moderate scenario.
Northern Australia, northwestern Europe, southeastern China, the US East Coast, Bangladesh, and several states in India will all be at particularly high risk of frequent and extensive flooding, the study found.
Climate change and energy
How a half-trillion dollars is transforming climate technology
Checking in with the landmark Inflation Reduction Act, one year later.
Zinc batteries that offer an alternative to lithium just got a big boost
The US Department of Energy just committed a $400 million loan to battery maker Eos.
This startup has engineered a clever way to reuse waste heat from cloud computing
Heata is now using these busy servers to heat water for homes.
How electricity could clean up transportation, steel, and even fertilizer
More industries are joining the charge to electrify everything in order to cut emissions.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.