It’s well known that sea levels are getting higher due to climate change and could result in serious loss of life within this century.
But for those that survive, could we end up living amid an economic meltdown?
A new study that assesses the financial cost of climate change suggests it may be possible, at least in Europe.
It predicts that rising sea levels could cause £748 billion (872 billion Euros) of combined economic losses across the UK and EU by 2100.
Among the countries most affected will be Latvia, Italy and Ireland, while least affected will Germany, Finland and Austria – with the UK somewhere in-between.
The cost of rising sea levels will be taken out of a country’s gross domestic product (GDP). This map shows the countries most affected (with the biggest decrease in GDP due to the cost of rising sea levels) in red and orange, with the least affected in green
According to the study authors at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, rising sea levels and resulting flooding will lead to billions spent on repairing flood-damaged buildings and setting up flood defences.
What’s more, there will be costly disruptions to activities in sectors like tourism and agriculture that are based near the coast.
This cost will be taken out of a country’s gross domestic product (GDP), but this figure will vary by country.
For example, the absolute cumulative loss for the UK by 2100 will be about £103 billion (121 billion Euros).
‘Climate-induced sea-level rise is an increasing concern,’ the authors say in their paper, published today in Scientific Reports.
‘Its destructive potential impacts areas where productive capital and population cluster – coastal cities and regions.
‘These regions experience rapid population growth, leaving over 200 million people in Europe alone at risk of coastal flooding and significant economic disruption.’
As scientists already know, climate change results in more intense rainfall because warmer air can hold more moisture.
And because rainfall is increasing on average across the world, the chances of flooding are getting higher.
Among the countries most affected will be Latvia , Italy and Ireland, while least affected will Germany , Finland and Austria – with the UK somewhere in-between
Because rainfall is increasing on average across the world, the chances of flooding are getting higher. Pictured: a London taxi drives through water on a flooded road in London on July 25, 2021
Many prior studies have looked at the specific areas that will become flooded in the decades to come, but the researchers wanted to explore the ‘direct economic consequences’ of this.
Using computer modelling, they estimated the potential economic impacts of sea level rises for 271 European regions by 2100.
Their model referred to data on projected sea-level rise impacts, investment trends, and the distribution of economic losses caused by 155 flooding events across Europe between 1995 and 2016.
It imagined a particularly severe scenario, where greenhouse gas emissions are ‘very high’, and no new coastal protection measures are being built.
Compared with a scenario of no sea level rise, they estimate a GDP loss of 1.26 per cent (871.8 billion Euros) for the whole of the EU and the UK.
Latvia will be the worst-affected, followed by Italy, Ireland, Portugal and Denmark.
Other regions that will incur relatively higher economic losses will be concentrated around the Baltic Sea, the Belgian coast, western France and Greece, the study found.
Interestingly, some countries will actually see an increase in GDP by 2100, the study predicts – although the overall cost to Europe will be negative.
Namely, inland countries such as in Germany, Austria, and Hungary should experience economic gains of up to one per cent by 2100.
The authors think this will be due to good preparation, such as agricultural and industrial production relocating from flooded coastal regions to inland regions.
Interestingly, some countries actually will see an increase in GDP by 2100, the study predicts. The authors think this will be due to agricultural and industrial production relocating from flooded coastal regions to inland regions. Pictured, a coastal natural gas plant in Norway
This map shows regional change in GDP due to cost of sea level rises. Note how many landlocked regions aren’t expected to be as badly affected. Interestingly, some regions and countries will actually see an increase in GDP by 2100 (green)
Researchers also looked at the regional change in GDP due to the cost of sea level rises, which revealed variation within individual countries.
For example, in the UK, East Yorkshire, Cornwall, Devon and Sussex would be among those most affected by a loss of GDP.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland, Cumbria, Aberdeenshire and the Scottish Highlands would be among the parts of the UK least affected.
Across the continent, the majority of economic losses – up to 21 per cent regional GDP by 2100 – will be in coastal regions such as Veneto and Emilia-Romagna (both in northern Italy) and Zachodniopomorskie in Poland.
According to the team, the findings highlight the need for ‘region-specific adaptation policies’ that address the uneven impacts of sea levels on different regions and their economies.
The study focused on Europe, but future studies could assess the economic impact of rising sea levels globally.
‘Our analysis shows that sea level rise damages could be larger than previously estimated,’ they conclude.
‘A national-level analysis masks regional disparities, and underestimates potentially systemic damages to vulnerable coastal regions, which could be an order of magnitude larger than national GDP losses.’
The study focused on Europe, but future studies could assess the economic impact of rising sea levels globally. Pictured, flooded street in Lagos, Nigeria in September 2023
An abandoned car stands in flood waters after the River Don burst its banks on November 08, 2019 in Rotherham, England
Ben Marzeion, professor of climate geography at the University of Bremen in Germany, praised the researchers for showing economic consequences of climate change.
‘There is a frequent misunderstanding that climate mitigation measures are too expensive – which ignores the fact that having no mitigation measures will also have a high price,’ said Professor Marzeion, who was not involved in the study.
Professor Athanasios Vafeidis at ChristianAlbrechts-university Kiel’s department of geography, added: ‘The results show that sea level rise can have very significant direct and indirect impacts at the local level and for specific sectors.
‘These impacts can be positive in some cases, particularly for land-locked regions.
‘This indicates where adaptation may be more urgently required.’