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As Sea Levels Rise, Coastal Cities Face Flood Damage Exceeding $1 Trillion
By Tim Radford
By 2050, flood damage in the world’s coastal cities is expected to reach $1 trillion a year as sea levels rise and global warming triggers new extremes of heat, windstorm and rain.
More than 40 percent of these prodigious costs could fall upon just four cities—New Orleans, Miami and New York in the U.S. and Guangzhou in China.
Stephane Hallegatte of the World Bank in Washington and colleagues looked at the risks of future flood losses in the 136 largest of the world’s coastal cities.
Any coastal city is always at some risk—by definition it is at sea level, and often on an estuary or floodplain, and very often began as a seaport.
But risks increase as the environment changes: some coastal cities are subsiding; sea levels are slowly but surely rising as the oceans warm and the glaciers melt; and for two decades researchers have repeatedly warned that what used to be “extreme” events such as once-in-a-century floods are likely to arrive considerably more often than once a century.
But, Hallegatte and colleagues point out in Nature Climate Change, there is another factor: populations are growing, and even in the poorest nations there is greater economic development. At bottom, for any future disaster, there will be more potential victims, with more investment to lose.
In 2005, average global flood losses are estimated to have reached $6 billion a year. This figure is expected to grow to $50 billion a year, and unless cities put money into better flood defenses, losses could pass the $1 trillion mark.
To make their calculations, the authors matched average annual losses (and in a city like New Orleans, much of it already below sea level, this is estimated at $600 million) against a city’s gross domestic product, to provide a measure of how much should be set aside to pay for such losses.
Both New York and New Orleans have already undergone catastrophic flooding this century, and flood hazard can only increase.
Some cities—Amsterdam in the Netherlands is a classic example—are highly exposed to flood risk, and the once-a-century flood could cost the Dutch $83 billion, but in fact Dutch sea defense standards are probably the highest in the world. Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and Alexandria in Egypt have less to lose, but in relative terms both are far more vulnerable.
Prophecies such as these are intended to be proved wrong: the idea is that a prophet warns of horrors to come, people take steps and as a consequence the horrors do not arrive.
But as disaster professionals have learned again and again, governments, city authorities, investors and even citizens tend not to listen to prophecies of doom: scientists and engineers repeatedly described what could happen to New Orleans if it was hit by a powerful-enough hurricane, and in 2005, as Hurricane Katrina arrived, the levees gave way with catastrophic results.
But, the scientists warn, Miami, New York and New Orleans are especially vulnerable, because wealth is high but protection systems are poor, and governments should be prepared for disasters more devastating than any experienced today.
The paper’s authors argue that with systematic preparedness and adaptation, annual flood losses in the great global cities could be cut to $63 billion a year.
Engineering projects can help, but will not be enough, so civic authorities should also be thinking about disaster planning and comprehensive insurance programs to cover future losses.
Since risks are highly concentrated—any city piles millions of people and billions of dollars of investment into a relatively small area—flood reduction schemes could be highly cost-effective.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
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‘Companies Should Not Be Allowed to Use Hazardous Ingredients in Products People Use’: Michelle Pfeiffer Speaks Up for Safer Cosmetics
The beauty products we put on our skin can have important consequences for our health. Just this March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that some Claire's cosmetics had tested positive for asbestos. But the FDA could only issue a warning, not a recall, because current law does not empower the agency to do so.
Michelle Pfeiffer wants to change that.
The actress and Environmental Working Group (EWG) board member was spotted on Capitol Hill Thursday lobbying lawmakers on behalf of a bill that would increase oversight of the cosmetics industry, The Washington Post reported.
By Julia Conley
Scientists at the United Nations' intergovernmental body focusing on biodiversity sounded alarms earlier this month with its report on the looming potential extinction of one million species — but few heard their calls, according to a German newspaper report.
The climate crisis is a major concern for American voters with nearly 40 percent reporting the issue will help determine how they cast their ballots in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, according to a report compiled by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
Of more than 1,000 registered voters surveyed on global warming, climate and energy policies, as well as personal and collective action, 38 percent said that a candidate's position on climate change is "very important" when it comes to determining who will win their vote. Overall, democratic candidates are under more pressure to provide green solutions as part of their campaign promises with 64 percent of Democrat voters saying they prioritize the issue compared with just 34 percent of Independents and 12 percent of Republicans.
President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill that will help Americans still recovering from the flooding, hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated parts of the country in the past two years. Senate Republicans said they struck a deal with the president to approve the measure, despite the fact that it did not include the funding he wanted for the U.S.-Mexican border, CNN reported.
"The U.S. Senate has just approved a 19 Billion Dollar Disaster Relief Bill, with my total approval. Great!" the president tweeted Thursday.
"There was a lot of devastation throughout the state," Governor Mike Parson said at a Thursday morning press conference, as NPR reported. "We were very fortunate last night that we didn't have more injuries than what we had, and we didn't have more fatalities across the state. But three is too many."