For thousands of years people have fantasized about finding the lost underwater city of Atlantis. It looks like their theory was a few centuries too early. A recent report estimates that by 2060, over a billion people will be threatened by sea level rise and coastal flooding.
Experts argue that, based on global emissions and how our climate responds, we could experience dozens of centimeters to several meters of sea level rise by 2100. However, “sea-level rise this century is irreversible and unavoidable.”
There are two important things to consider when thinking about vulnerability to natural disasters: the number of people who will be affected and the potential financial losses (in risk reduction literature this is called value at risk).
In terms of human exposure, Asian cities like Kolkata, India; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Guangzhou, China; and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, house the most vulnerable populations. The report estimates that each of these cities will have over nine million at-risk citizens by 2070.
However, when we consider value at risk the U.S. tops the list, with Miami and New York/Newark ranked as two of the three most vulnerable cities in the world. The study suggests that by 2070, these two cities will have over $3.5 trillion and $2.1 trillion dollars of assets exposed to the risks of coastal flooding, respectively.
The world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters, (China, the U.S. and India) will bear the biggest coastal flooding-related financial burdens, however poor people all over the world, especially in Asia, will be most affected. In fact, we are already losing land to rising tides.
The United Nations estimates that climate adaptation in developing countries alone could cost as much as $500 billion per year by 2050. Where will all this money come from?
According to a recent Oxfam report, COP21 failed to define “quantified goals to ensure adaptation finance” for developing countries. Oxfam suggests that we can ramp up funding by increasing foreign grants and aid, as well as funneling more cash through financial mechanisms.
Given the size of investment needed to prepare the entire planet for the risks of climate change, we need to connect capital markets with climate adaptation. By creating innovative financial mechanisms that channel private investment into resiliency projects we can better prepare ourselves for the uncertainties to come.