Wed, Nov 08, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Cities that will be drowned by global warming

The UN is warning that we are now on course for 3?C of global warming, which would ultimately redraw the map of the world

By Josh Holder, Niko Kommenda and Jonathan Watts  /  The Guardian

Illustration: Mountain People

When UN climate negotiators meet for summit talks this month, there will be a new figure on the table: 3°C.

Until now, global efforts such as the Paris climate agreement have tried to limit global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

However, with latest projections pointing to an increase of 3.2°C by 2100, these goals seem to be slipping out of reach.

“[We] still find ourselves in a situation where we are not doing nearly enough to save hundreds of millions of people from a miserable future,” UN Environment Programme executive director Erik Solheim said ahead of the Bonn Climate Change Conference [which opened on Monday].

One of the biggest resulting threats to cities around the world is sea-level rise, caused by the expansion of water at higher temperatures and melting ice sheets on the north and south poles.

Scientists at the non-profit organization Climate Central estimate that 275 million people worldwide live in areas that would eventually be flooded at 3°C of global warming.

The regional impact of these changes is highly uneven, with four out of five people affected living in Asia.

Although sea levels are not likely to rise instantaneously, the calculated increases would be “locked in” at a temperature rise of 3°C, meaning they would be irreversible even if warming eventually slows down.


5.2 million people affected

At the end of a month in which it has been battered by unseasonably late typhoons and relentless rain, Japan is already confronting the threat posed by climate change-induced flooding.

Image modeling shows that swaths of Osaka — the commercial heart of a region whose GDP is almost as big as that of the Netherlands — would disappear beneath the water in a 3°C world, threatening the local economy and almost one-third of the wider region’s 19 million residents.

As a result of global sea-level rise, storm surges and other factors, economists project that coastal flooding could put almost US$1 trillion of Osaka’s assets at risk by the 2070s, the Union of Concerned Scientists said.

“The costs of protecting cities from rising sea levels and storms are also likely to rise — as are the costs of repairing storm damage,” it said. “Decisions we make today could have a profound impact on the security and culture of the people of this ancient city.”

Like much of Japan, Osaka already has a network of seawalls and other coastal defenses in place to combat tsunami — although their effectiveness was disputed in the aftermath of the 2011 triple disaster.

Osaka city authorities are investing in other infrastructure to mitigate the effects of flooding, but public education is also vital, the Osaka City Environment Bureau’s Toshikazu Nakaaki said.

“In the past our response was focused on reducing the causes of global warming, but given that climate change is inevitable, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], we are now discussing how to respond to the natural disasters that will follow,” Nakaaki said. “We anticipate that Osaka will be affected by natural disasters caused by climate change, but we have yet to establish exactly what might happen or how much financial damage they would cause.”

“It’s not that we expect sea levels to rise at some point in the future — they are already rising,” Nakaaki said.

Keiko Kanai has long been aware that her home city is susceptible to natural disasters.

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