DAA Daily

What sea level rise will look like around the world

By: Jenna Zuraiki, Chief Editor, The Pawprint 

The Earth is quickly warming, resulting in unprecedented droughts, severe floods, and rare Arctic melting events. It’s also producing a gradual rise in sea levels, which experts predict will last decades.

According to a new analysis by Climate Central, a non-profit research organization, around 50 major coastal towns would need to take “extraordinary” adaptation steps to avoid rising waters devouring their most populous sections. The study, which was carried out in collaboration with Princeton University and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, produced stark visual contrasts between the world as we know it today and our underwater future if the planet warms by 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

In August, climate scientists estimated that the planet had already warmed by 1.2 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times. They argue that temperatures should remain below 1.5 degrees Celsius, it is very vital to avoiding the worst effects of the climate problem. Even in the most optimistic scenario, in which global greenhouse gas emissions begin to reduce today and reach net zero by 2050, global temperatures would still rise over the 1.5 degree threshold before declining.  In less optimistic scenarios, where emissions continue to grow beyond 2050, the earth might warm by 3 degrees Celsius as early as the 2060s or 2070s, and the oceans will rise for decades longer before reaching peak levels.

Climate Central experts analyzed sections of the globe that would be most vulnerable to sea level rise, which tend to be clustered in the Asia-Pacific region, using global elevation and population data. According to the paper, small island nations are at risk of “near-total land loss,” and Asia is home to eight of the top ten locations most vulnerable to sea level rise, with about 600 million people at risk of flooding under a three-degree warmer scenario.

China, India, Vietnam, and Indonesia are among the top five nations most vulnerable to long-term sea level rise, according to Climate Central’s study. These are also nations that have installed new coal-burning capacity in recent years, according to the study.

A research published in the journal Nature in September concluded that roughly 60% of the planet’s remaining oil and natural gas reserves, as well as 90% of its coal reserves, should remain in the ground by 2050 in order to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. To avoid the crucial climatic barrier, most regions around the world must attain peak fossil fuel production now or within the next decade, according to the report.

As one of the nation’s biggest contributors to global warming, China made a major climate commitment in September at the United Nations General Assembly: the country will no longer build any new coal-fired power projects abroad, signaling a shift in policy around its sprawling Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, which had already begun to phase out coal projects.

According to Climate Central, if the world warms by 3 degrees, around 43 million people in China would live on land that will be below high-tide levels by 2100, with 200 million more living in locations at danger of sea level rise in the long run.

The consequences of climate change intensify with every fraction of a degree of warming. Even if global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees, experts predict that extreme weather events like those seen this summer would grow more intense and frequent. Beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, the climate system may become unrecognizable.

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