Climate change: Coastal flooding could threaten up to 20% of global GDP

Elias Hubbard
August 1, 2020

Coastal flooding and storm surges could threaten assets worth up to 20 per cent of global wealth, according to research published Thursday highlighting the potential economic catastrophe that climate change may bring. Armed with this data, the researchers then estimated the number of people and the amount of assets that are at risk from flooding on a global scale.

Co-author Professor Ian Young, from the University of Melbourne, said while north-west Europe is particularly exposed to rising flood risk, the study shows other major risk areas in every continent.

The worst case: Under a scenario in which emissions continue to rise unchecked through the century, coastal flooding would threaten almost 290 million people and more than $14 trillion in coastal assets-or 20% of global GDP.

While much is known about the potential for global sea levels to rise as burning fossil fuels heats the planet and melts its frozen spaces, far less research looks at the impact of individual extreme flood events.

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 researchers combined their model with topographic data to identify areas at risk of coastal flooding.

'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 defences, we need to increase our preparedness, and we need to be following strategies to mitigate climate change", said Ms Kirezci.

Under conditions of high greenhouse gas emissions and assuming no flood defences, the authors estimate that the land affected by coastal flooding could increase by 48% by 2100.

The study, published in Nature Scientific Reports, found that areas at increased risk of extreme flooding include southeastern China, Australia, Bangladesh, West Bengal and Gujarat in India, the USA states of North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland and northwest Europe including Britain, France and Germany.

In Europe, particularly at-risk regions are the north-west of the continent, including the United Kingdom, northern France and northern Germany.

If emissions are mitigated, the figures are lowered to an increase of 33 per cent of land at risk of flooding and threats to assets worth $12.7 trillion, or around 17 per cent of global GDP.

By the end of the century, 77 million more people will be exposed to the risk of extreme flooding.

But without investment in flood defences or a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, coastal flooding could have calamitous implications for the humans of 2021, many of whom have already been born.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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