The consequences of climate change will be devastating. It will affect people worldwide, destroy ecosystems, and push many species to extinction. It will also be particularly hard on developing countries. Many politicians don’t like to even think about those issues let alone consider how to do something about it, so let’s speak a more universal language: Money.
New research from the UK's National Oceanographic Centre has estimated the global financial cost of continued rising sea levels. They estimate that the bill will be $14 trillion every year by 2100 if the United Nations' 2°C (3.6°F) warming limit is missed. Their work is reported in Environmental Research Letters.
"More than 600 million people live in low-elevation coastal areas, less than 10 meters above sea level," lead author Dr. Svetlana Jevrejeva said in a statement. "In a warming climate, global sea level will rise due to melting of land-based glaciers and ice sheets, and from the thermal expansion of ocean waters. So, sea level rise is one of the most damaging aspects of our warming climate,"
The research shows that upper-middle income countries such as China would see the largest increase in cost. High-income countries tend to have more protective infrastructures in place already, so they are expected to have to pay the least. That said catastrophic flooding won't skip the richest countries or regions (sorry San Francisco) The team looked at the potential effects of sea level rising at both global and local level. They modeled restricted warming scenarios versus the unmitigated model obtained using the Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 8.5.
"If warming is not mitigated and follows the RCP8.5 sea level rise projections, the global annual flood costs without adaptation will increase to $14 trillion per year for a median sea level rise of 0.86 meters, and up to $27 trillion per year for 1.8 meters. This would account for 2.8 percent of global GDP in 2100," they wrote.
So, footing this bill will come down to us and the next few generations. If only there was a way to not pay all this money... Well, funny you should say that: researchers have estimated that by sticking to the Paris Agreement (which of course the US has abandoned because sadly these days it's America First y'all) would actually save $20 trillion. It would also make the world less likely to break the 2°C (3.6°F) warming limit and end up with higher sea levels.
"These extreme sea levels will have a negative effect on the economies of developing coastal nations, and the habitability of low-lying coastlines," explained Dr Jevrejeva. "Small, low-lying island nations such as the Maldives will be very easily affected, and the pressures on their natural resources and environment will become even greater. These results place further emphasis on putting even greater efforts into mitigating rising global temperatures."