A new report from the German development agency GIZ, provides practical advice on how to integrate ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) measures into policies and planning. Using practical case studies from Mexico, Peru, South Africa, Philippines, and Viet Nam, the report highlights the benefits of EbA approaches for building resilience to climate change and other environmental shocks.
The report, ‘Emerging Lessons for Mainstreaming Ecosystem-based Adaptation: Strategic Entry Points and Processes,’ also stresses that more needs to be done to improve awareness and understanding of EbA approaches, to ensure that they are employed more widely.
The benefits of EbA are well covered in the case studies, showing that such approaches can prove more cost-effective than hard infrastructure approaches, while being just as effective at reducing climate risk. The report also stresses the EbA approaches also often come with many co-benefits, such as improved environment, space for leisure activities and cleaner air.
However, EbA approaches are still overlooked in favour of hard infrastructure development. The report notes that there has been progress towards EbA mainstreaming in many countries, several barriers to its wide adoption remain. Chief among these is a general lack of understanding of EbA approaches and when it is appropriate to use them. There is also a lack of good evidence of their efficacy either as stand-alone solutions or used in combination with hard infrastructure.
The report highlights several entry-points where EbA approaches can be integrated into policies and planning through:
In April 2019, New York City released new and updated Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines that apply to all city capital projects, with the exception of coastal protection projects. The guidelines direct planners, engineers, architects, and others involved in project delivery on how to use regionally-specific future climate projections in the design of city facilities.
The guidelines are designed to be used throughout all stages
of the project design process, starting with the initiation of capital planning
and through final design. They provide step-by-step instructions on how to
supplement historic climate data with specific, regional, forward-looking
climate change data in the design of City facilities. The guidelines aim to
ensure that resilient design becomes an integral part of the project planning
process for City agencies and designers.
The Guidelines are an effort to incorporate forward-looking
climate change data in the design of all City capital projects. Existing codes
and standards already incorporate historic weather data to determine how to design
for today’s conditions. However, with climate change the past is no longer a
good guide to the robust design standards that will be required in the future.
The guidelines therefore incorporate the work of the New York Panel on Climate
Change (NPCC), which provides city-level climate projections.
Developed by the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resilience
(ORR), the Guidelines encourage resilience approaches to infrastructure
development in the city. A successful resilience strategy, the guidelines say,
is one that “provides co-beneficial outcomes, reduces costs over the life of
the asset wherever possible, and avoids negative indirect impacts to other
Instead the guidelines encourage infrastructure projects to
take an integrated approach from planning to implementation, ensuring that they
are a cohesive part of exiting processes that address goals defined by the
City. The guidelines suggest that this is best achieved by:
integrating “soft” resiliency strategies
(operational measures or investments in green infrastructure) and “hard”
resiliency strategies (built or intensive investments);
addressing multiple climate hazards with single
reducing climate change risk in concert with
other goals (e.g., energy efficiency or reduction in greenhouse gas emissions).
A copy of the NYC Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines can be downloaded here.
Insurers have warned that climate change could make insurance unaffordable for the majority of people. This comes after Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurance firm, blamed global warming for $24billion in losses resulting from the 2018 Californian wildfires.
Ernst Rauch, Munich Re’s chief climatologist says that costs could soon be more widely felts, with premium rises already under discussion with clients holding assets in vulnerable areas.
“If the risk from wildfires, flooding, storms or hail is increasing then the only sustainable option we have is to adjust our prices accordingly,” he said. “In the long run it might become a social issue.”
The majority of California’s 20 worst forest blazes since the 1930s have occurred this millennium. Wetter and more humid winters prompted new forest growth which became tinder dry in the heatwave conditions that preceded the 2018 fires. The report concludes that the wildfires, which killed 85 people, were broadly consistent with climate change.
Nicolas Jeanmart, the head of personal insurance, general insurance and macroeconomics at Insurance Europe, said rising premiums could pose a threat to social order.
“The sector is concerned that continuing global increases in temperature could make it increasingly difficult to offer the affordable financial protection that people deserve, and that modern society requires to function properly” he said.
Furthermore, climate models are predicting increases in the intensity and frequency of California’s wildfire season. The Munich Re analysis uses the same monthly meteorological data in combination with financial losses to graph the trend’s rise since 2001. The data shows that while average annual wildfire losses trailed well below $5billion, in 2017 and 2018 they leapt to more than $20 billion.
While it is easier to link climate change to patterns of severe weather rather than isolated events, insurers concluding that climate change is the root cause of such an event could make insurance companies think carefully about the pricing and availability of similar insurance policies.
Unlocking investment for new infrastructure is vital for municipal governments to ensure climate-resilient urban development.
Despite this, countries in Asia are faced with a huge infrastructure investment gap. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates that countries in Asia and the Pacific will need to commit over $26 trillion for infrastructure spending by 2030 if the region hopes to sustain growth while meeting the combined challenges of poverty reduction and climate change.  However, the principal brake on investment is not lack of funding, or a lack of will from large investors, but a lack of identifiable, bankable projects at the city level.
To address this, cities are in need of support to develop robust, integrated, and climate-responsive infrastructure plans. Investing in a resilience approach to urban planning can support municipal governments to develop such plans and unlock a multitrillion-dollar urban investment opportunity.
Traditional approaches to infrastructure planning, led by national governments and which prioritizes infrastructure investments based on national planning, have not been successful in identifying good quality, infrastructure investments at the city level. A recent report from the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and the World Bank identifies several reasons why such ‘top-down’ planning approaches have been unsuccessful, and challenges the myth that cities in the developing countries “just need access to global capital markets” to invest in resilience. Three of the most significant challenges identified in the report were:
Lack of government capacity – Chief amongst areas of capacity deficit identified were: (i) the inability to plan and implement resilience investments; (ii) an inability to generate sufficient revenue to meet existing obligations and maintain ongoing programs; and, (iii) general challenges to infrastructure development.
Lack of private sector confidence – The report found this to be driven by governance constraints (financial regulations and complexity, the policy environment including corruption, political uncertainty, and absence of financeable proposals) as well as lack of data and standards to benchmark asset performance.
Challenges in project preparation – The report found that governments had limited experience with project identification and preparation and limited resources to commit to project preparation. This means that the pipeline of well-developed, financeable urban infrastructure and resilience projects offered to investors is limited.
There is some evidence to suggest that resilience approaches to urban planning can go some way to addressing these issues. Work under an ongoing ADB trust fund provides support to city-level resilience planning methods that aim to deliver better-quality infrastructure and uncover more bankable infrastructure projects in cities across Asia.
The Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund (UCCRTF) under the Urban Financing Partnership Facility administered by ADB, with contributions from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Governments of Switzerland and United Kingdom, is working in at least 25 cities in 8 countries in Asia to embed resilience into ADB’s investments. The fund is a significant testing ground for resilience approaches to urban planning, as it aims to link $150 million of funding to over $1 billion of ADB loans.
Resilience planning for urban development
To date, UCCRTF has approved over $100 million in projects that support climate-resilient urban development, and a significant proportion of this funding has gone to upstream support to urban planning at the city level. The trust fund has begun to address many of the challenges for developing a pipeline of investable infrastructure assets beginning in the early stages of urban planning.
Identifying suitable infrastructure developments and projects, based on good quality urban plans, requires effective, long-term town-planning and climate vulnerability assessments based on good quality local data. This is no small barrier for Asian cities, especially the thousands of smaller cities with limited municipal budgets. One statistic that demonstrates the stark reality of the capacity deficit in city planning is the number of qualified urban planners – in the United Kingdom there are 38 per 100,000 population; in India there are 0.23.
The lack of planning at the local level means decisions over new infrastructure for cities are often decided at the national level. This top-down approach tends to favor larger physical infrastructure investments, and risks being influenced by the prevailing political climate at the time.
The UCCRTF approach to project identification and prioritization fundamentally shifts the emphasis of urban infrastructure planning from the domain of national governments to city-level decision makers and the citizens themselves. The diagram below shows the four stages of UCCRTF planning. It establishes a systems-centered approach that emphasizes local-level agency, stakeholder engagement, and knowledge and capacity building as central parts of ADB’s infrastructure investment processes.
Introducing a systems-centered approach in Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, the UCCRTF approach was piloted in seven towns. The ADB project officer secured funding from UCCRTF to support the towns of Bagerhat, Cox’s Bazaar, Faridpur, Gopalganj, Kushtia Myenmensingh, and Patuakhali to prepare climate-resilient integrated urban plans. A team of consultants prepared climate risk and vulnerability assessments (CRVA) for the towns to determine the problems faced due to changes in climate.
The analysis included climate modeling information on the cities, combined with city-level data on disasters. Socioeconomic information was also incorporated in order to target interventions for the poor and vulnerable. Local knowledge on historical disasters was gathered through focus group discussions with the local residents.
The resulting CRVAs were then used to guide the preparation of climate-resilient integrated urban plans (CRUIPs) and the formulation of actionable priorities for implementation in the next five years.
The CRIUPs, developed for five cities (Cox’s Bazaar, Faridpur, Gopalganj, Kushtia, and Myenmensingh) through the UCCRTF technical assistance were carried forward into an ADB loan project, and provided reference for the identification of priority investments.
For Bagerhat and Patuakhali, the UCCRTF provided additional financing of $6 million for the construction of cyclone shelters, drainage, emergency access roads, and the preparation of an integrated drainage plan and a fecal and solid waste management plan. These interventions were also identified through the CRUIP process.
Promoting resilience in Pakistan
The resilience planning approach was also applied in Pakistan, particularly for the two regions of Greater Abbottabad and Greater Peshawar, and for three cities: Abbottabad, Mardan, and Peshawar in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.
Here, the CRVAs combined two approaches, the top-down approach with climate risk assessments through climate modeling and the bottom-up approach with vulnerability assessments of vulnerable areas and communities through focus group discussions. In addition, guidelines for mainstreaming climate risks and vulnerability assessments into regional integrated urban plans and city development plans (CDPs) were also prepared.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, cities were supported to integrate the assessments into their outline CDPs and project prefeasibility studies. This formed part of the evidence base for final CDPs and the identification of suitable investments.
UCCRTF supported the identification of climate-resilient urban infrastructure and recommended innovative climate resilience measures and technologies for the engineering designs of proposed projects. Furthermore, it supported institutional capacity building on climate resilience at the municipal level.
One statistic that demonstrates the stark reality of the capacity deficit in city planning is the number of qualified urban planners – in the United Kingdom there are 38 per 100,000 population; in India there are 0.23.
A new approach
UCCRTF’s approach breaks with traditional processes in several important ways. Firstly, being positioned within ADB, project officers can tap UCCRTF support for a host of ‘soft’ resilience-building measures such as capacity building, training, and peer learning at the city level. Investment in soft measures that boost the urban planning capabilities at the city level will help to increase the quality and quantity of bankable infrastructure investment opportunities.
Secondly, the process by which the UCCRTF develops the climate assessments, urban plans, and infrastructure prioritization is characterized as ‘iterative-inclusiveness’. This involves understanding urban climate vulnerability and infrastructure needs through a thorough stakeholder engagement process that goes well beyond consultation. This entails many workshops and meetings with representatives from local communities, the private sector, and government at the municipal, regional, and national level.
While still in its early stages, the UCCRTF process is beginning to show its value. In particular the resilience approach has been effective in:
improving city-level environment and climate data;
improving the quality of urban plans;
identifying investable infrastructure opportunities; and
providing a robust evidence base for project developers.
The UCCRTF approach to urban resilience planning has the potential to transform the way multilateral development banks and other institutional investors identify and prioritize urban infrastructure investments. Embedding resilience principles into the project planning phases may help to find bankable investment opportunities that contribute to creating livable, resilient cities.
In a recent evaluation of the 2013 European Adaptation Strategy the European Commission (EC) asserted that adapting the regions and economic sectors of the European Union (EU) to the impacts of climate change is now more urgent than was forecasted in 2013.
The finding was shared in a report on the implementation of the adaptation strategy and lessons learned, published on 12 November. The recently released IPCC report about the impacts of 1.5 °C versus 2.0 °C global warming added even more urgency to the EC’s findings.
“The need to adapt remains and it has actually grown, as impacts of past emissions unfold through heatwaves, storms, forest fires at high latitudes or destructive floods.”
Miguel Arias Cañete, DG CLIMA
Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete said: “Our collective work on adaptation has shown we not only know more but can also do more to prevent the worst climate impacts projected by 2050. The need to adapt remains and it has actually grown, as impacts of past emissions unfold through heatwaves, storms, forest fires at high latitudes or destructive floods. This evaluation provides a credible basis for the EU policy on adaptation to explore new directions, improvements and also alignment with international developments since 2013.”
The EC’s evaluation showed that the adaptation strategy had delivered on its objectives to promote action by Member States, ‘climate-proof’ action at EU level and support better-informed decision-making. However, it is very clear that Europe is still vulnerable to climate impacts and more work needs to be done in order to build resilience. The findings will undoubtedly provide food for thought for the upcoming UN climate change conference COP24.
Some of the key findings of the evaluation are:
The current adaptation strategy is still relevant, and the Commission will be guided by its objectives.
Major infrastructure projects financed by the EU budget have become climate-proof and will withstand sea level rise, flooding or intense heat.
In the future, an effort must be made to ensure most, or all, EU cities have a thorough adaptation plan to protect citizens from both extreme and slow-onset climate hazards. The plans should also cater for specific vulnerabilities of certain communities (e.g. the EU’s Outermost Regions) and the different risks faced by the very diverse regions in the European continent.
The contribution of the private sector to enhance society’s resilience must be encouraged: the Commission’s efforts will continue to be channelled through its Action Plan on Financing Sustainable Growth and the subsequent legislative proposals adopted in 2018.
Climate services for specific adaptation needs should develop into business opportunities, based on reliable and standardised data and the incentives provided by Copernicus and other European Earth observation initiatives.
New policies are “urgently” needed to protect homes and landscapes from coastal flooding and erosion in the long term, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says.
These coastal risks will increase in the future due to climate change, the committee says in a new report to government. But long-term action can help to manage their impact, it adds.
The current approach to protecting the coastline in England “really isn’t fit for purpose”, Chris Stark, chief executive of the CCC, tells Carbon Brief. “We’re trying to encourage an honest conversation about that.”
England will “almost certainly” have to adapt to at least 1m of sea level rise at some point, the report says. Some model projections indicate that this will happen over the next 80 years – within the lifetime of young people alive today. [Sea levels are expected to rise 48cm by 2100 – if global temperature rise are kept to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels].
Rising sea levels will increase the frequency of the most damaging coastal floods, the CCC says, and increase rates of coastal erosion. It adds:
“Many of England’s coastal defences are likely to be at risk of failure as sea levels rise. For example, a sea level rise of 0.5m is projected to make a further 20% of England’s coastal defences vulnerable to failure.”
The CCC says these changes must be accounted for in long-term land-use and coastal defence plans. But the public are not clearly informed about current or future risks of coastal erosion and flooding, it says.
There is also a possibility of accelerated ice sheet melt – and, thus, higher sea level rise than 1m – in the absence of more mitigation on climate change, Professor Jim Hall, who leads on flooding and coastal erosion at the CCC, tells Carbon Brief. “What we’re talking about here very much has a global mitigation context,” he says.
Losses from coastal erosion and flooding are already being felt today, the CCC says, with damages amounting to an average £260m per year. There are 520,000 properties in England in areas at risk from coastal flooding and 8,900 properties are in areas at risk of being lost through coastal erosion, the CCC adds.
The CCC estimates the total value of assets at risk from coastal flooding to be around £120-150bn, though it says this is difficult to quantify.
By the 2080s,1.5m properties – including 1.2m homes – may be at risk of coastal flooding, it says, with a further 100,000 at risk from coastal erosion. Around 1,600km of road, 92 railways stations and 12 substations and nuclear power stations could be at risk from coastal erosion or flooding by 2100, the CCC adds.
[All of the UK’s operating nuclear power plants are on the coast; they are responsible for their own coastal defences and, according to Hall, they look a lot further into the future with respect to sea level rise than is typically done for coastal communities.]
The population at risk of coastal flooding could almost quadruple by 2080, according to the CCC’s earlier 2017 risk assessment, as shown in the chart below.
Other research has shown the damage from coastal flooding in the UK could be very high in the absence of upgrades to protection. One Nature Climate Change study found the UK could see up to €236bn in annual damages and 1.1 million people exposed to coastal flooding by 2100. It found the UK to be the worst hit European country by far, although others will also be severely affected.
The CCC notes that the risks of harmful coastal flooding and erosion “cannot be eliminated altogether”. However, stronger actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change could reduce the risk for 400,000-500,000 people in England by 2100, compared to a “baseline” level of climate adaptation, it adds.
Strategic responsibility for overseeing English coast rests with the government’s Environment Agency, Hall tells Carbon Brief. But local authorities also have some responsibility, in particular in areas of coastal erosion.
These two groups work together to develop local Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs), which identify responses to future coastal changes using a 100-year policy framework. They were first developed in the mid-1990s and revised between 2006 and 2011. The map below shows how they are split up into 22 separate areas.
But as they stand, these plans “cannot be relied” on to reduce the risks from coastal flooding and erosion, the CCC says. This is because they are not legally binding and contain unfunded proposals. Implementing current policies to protect England’s coast would cost £18-30bn in total, the CCC adds, depending on the rate of climate change.
Importantly, many of the unfunded coastline protection plans are far less “cost-effective” than the measures funded by government today. Hall says current plans for around 150 kilometres of coastline are not cost-beneficial to implement. This raises the need for honest conversations with those affected about “the difficult choices they face”, he says.
“There genuinely will be homes that it will not be possible to save,” said Baroness Brown, chair of the CCC’s adaptation sub-committee, at a briefing for journalists on the new report. “That’s why we need those discussions, that’s why people need information, so they can take rational decisions about the level of risk they are prepared to take.”
Shoreline Management Plans the core reason why the CCC’s concludes that England’s current approach to protecting the coastline “isn’t fit for purpose” says Stark. “They are non-statutory, they’re unfunded, and they give this kind of illusory protection,” he tells Carbon Brief.
Sustainable coastal adaptation is possible with long-term commitment and proactive steps by the government, Stark says.
The report sets out several ways forward, from simple acknowledgement and communication about changing coastal risks by the relevant authorities to the development of more rigorously implemented local plans. There is also a need for more evidence-based, quantified outcomes, the CCC says, since much of government policy fails to outline actions that can be assessed in terms of their impact on overall exposure or risk.
However, the government will also need to make long-term funding and investment available in the face of coastal risks, the CCC says, including to help affected communities cope with inevitable changes.
This funding needs to be based on a “broader and more inclusive economic case” than is current practice, the report adds, since areas where investment in hard defences is uneconomic tend to lose out. It says:
“[T]hese places also need funding to assist them to adapt to inevitable changes, so whilst hard defences may not be fundable they still need support for a broader package of adaptation actions, including community engagement, asset relocation and compensation to move households where appropriate.”
Note: There is a survey at the end of this article to find out about private sector involvement in nature-based solutions, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean, make sure to complete it if you know of good examples!
In the past few years, ‘nature-based solutions’ has emerged as a new umbrella term for measures “inspired and supported by nature”. Nature-based solutions cover a range of methods that are tried and tested, such as ecosystem services, green-blue infrastructure, ecosystem-based adaptation, and more. This new term provides a new category of sustainable practices that utilize the natural world, which can be used by policy and decision makers to tackle many societal issues, such as climate change.
The recently released special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has put the urgency of immediate and effective climate action front and center once again. Not only is a swift reduction of greenhouse gas emissions extremely important, but, with the amount of warming that has already happened, climate change adaptation is also top of the priority list.
Climate change presents many challenges to the private sector, in particular for companies whose products or services are dependent on natural resource or have assets that are exposed to the elements. Companies will need to consider how to protect their assets from damages caused by extreme weather events, how to maintain services in the face of a changing climate, and how to maintain access to increasingly scarce natural resources. Not planning for climate change impacts can result in service failures with severe economic or reputational losses and cascading impacts to other sectors.
So, how can nature-based solutions help companies deal with climate and climate-related risks and why should the private sector invest in them? Here are three reasons to begin with:
Nature-based solutions often take advantage of existing natural resources that regenerate themselves, consuming less energy and remaining unaffected by power loss as opposed to many gray infrastructure solutions. An example of this could be water treatment of industrial wastewater through wetlands rather than a wastewater treatment facility .
Many nature-based solutions are self-sustaining and don’t lose performance capacity over time. Depending on the solution it might even improve. Gray infrastructure solutions lose value over time and have a finite life expectancy after which they need to be replaced or decommissioned. This could be, for example, restoring or establishing oyster reefs to break wave energy and reduce coastal erosion instead of building artificial wave breakers.
Nature-based solutions have many co-benefits that can range from mere aesthetics to biodiversity conservation, decreasing water runoff and thus flood risk, and having a beneficial impact on human health. These co-benefits can significantly improve the reputation of private companies. Take for example a company that installs rainwater harvesting features in the form of vegetation and underground water storage to use the harvested water in bathrooms on their premises, thus reducing its impact on the local water supply, providing a pleasant green environment to its employees, and having a positive impact on local biodiversity.
In order to effectively make the business case for nature-based solutions and encourage the private sector to increase its investment in them, the Inter-American Development Bank, UN Environment, Acclimatise, and UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre are working on a project that will identify the barriers and enablers to private sector uptake of nature-based solutions, specifically in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Despite the potential benefits and vast applications of nature-based solutions, few examples of private sector use in Latin America and the Caribbean have been profiled. Through this project, we seek to identify examples of implementation, the barriers and enablers to uptake by the private sector and what steps could be taken to increase the consideration and use of nature-based solutions to build infrastructure resilience.
If you know of any good examples in the region, please fill in the survey and tell us about them!
2017 was the worst year on record for hurricane damage in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean from Harvey, Irma and Maria. We had hoped for a reprieve this year, but less than a month after Hurricane Florence devastated communities across the Carolinas, Hurricane Michael has struck Florida.
Coastlines are being developed rapidly and intensely in the United States and worldwide. The population of central and south Florida, for example, has grown by 6 million since 1990. Many of these cities and towns face the brunt of damage from hurricanes. In addition, rapid coastal development is destroying natural ecosystems like marshes, mangroves, oyster reefs and coral reefs – resources that help protect us from catastrophes.
In a unique partnership funded by Lloyd’s of London, we worked with colleagues in academia, environmental organizations and the insurance industry to calculate the financial benefits that coastal wetlands provide by reducing storm surge damages from hurricanes. Our study, published in 2017, found that this function is enormously valuable to local communities. It offers new evidence that protecting natural ecosystems is an effective way to reduce risks from coastal storms and flooding.
The economic value of flood protection from wetlands
Although there is broad understanding that wetlands can protect coastlines, researchers have not explicitly measured how and where these benefits translate into dollar values in terms of reduced risks to people and property. To answer this question, our group worked with experts who understand risk best: insurers and risk modelers.
Using the industry’s storm surge models, we compared the flooding and property damages that occurred with wetlands present during Hurricane Sandy to the damages that would have occurred if these wetlands were lost. First we compared the extent and severity of flooding during Sandy to the flooding that would have happened in a scenario where all coastal wetlands were lost. Then, using high-resolution data on assets in the flooded locations, we measured the property damages for both simulations. The difference in damages – with wetlands and without – gave us an estimate of damages avoided due to the presence of these ecosystems.
Our paper shows that during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, coastal wetlands prevented more than US$625 million in direct property damages by buffering coasts against its storm surge. Across 12 coastal states from Maine to North Carolina, wetlands and marshes reduced damages by an average of 11 percent.
These benefits varied widely by location at the local and state level. In Maryland, wetlands reduced damages by 30 percent. In highly urban areas like New York and New Jersey, they provided hundreds of millions of dollars in flood protection.
Wetlands reduced damages in most locations, but not everywhere. In some parts of North Carolina and the Chesapeake Bay, wetlands redirected the surge in ways that protected properties directly behind them, but caused greater flooding to other properties, mainly in front of the marshes. Just as we would not build in front of a seawall or a levee, it is important to be aware of the impacts of building near wetlands.
Wetlands reduce flood losses from storms every year, not just during single catastrophic events. We examined the effects of marshes across 2,000 storms in Barnegat Bay, New Jersey. These marshes reduced flood losses annually by an average of 16 percent, and up to 70 percent in some locations.
In related research, our team has also shown that coastal ecosystems can be highly cost-effective for risk reduction and adaptation along the U.S. Gulf Coast, particularly as part of a portfolio of green (natural) and gray (engineered) solutions.
Reducing risk through conservation
Our research shows that we can measure the reduction in flood risks that coastal ecosystems provide. This is a central concern for the risk and insurance industry and for coastal managers. We have shown that these risk reduction benefits are significant, and that there is a strong case for conserving and protecting our coastal ecosystems.
There is often a strong desire to return to the status quo after a disaster. More often than not, this means rebuilding seawalls and concrete barriers. But these structures are expensive, will need constant upgrades as as sea levels rise, and can damage coastal ecosystems.
Even after suffering years of damage, Florida’s mangrove wetlands and coral reefs play crucial roles in protecting the state from hurricane surges and waves. And yet, over the last six decades urban development has eliminated half of Florida’s historic mangrove habitat. Losses are still occurring across the state from the Keys to Tampa Bay and Miami.
Protecting and nurturing these natural first lines of defense could help Florida homeowners reduce property damage during future storms. In the past two years our team has worked with the private sector and government agencies to help translate these risk reduction benefits into action for rebuilding natural defenses.
Across the United States, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, coastal communities face a crucial question: Can they rebuild in ways that make them better prepared for the next storm, while also conserving the natural resources that make these locations so valuable? Our work shows that the answer is yes.
Coastal communities around the world are struggling to adapt to rising sea levels and increasingly severe coastal storms. In the United States, local governments are making investments to reduce those risks, such as protecting shorelines with seawalls, “nourishing” eroded beaches by adding sand and rerouting or redesigning roads and bridges.
In the short run, spending public money this way is economically rational. But in the long run, many people who live near coastlines will probably have to relocate as seas continue to rise.
We have studied this problem by combining insights from our work in economics, coastal geomorphology and engineering. As we have explained elsewhere, short-term actions to adapt to coastal flooding can actually increase risks to lives and property. By raising the value of coastal properties, these steps encourage people to stay in place and delay decisions about more drastic solutions, such as moving inland.
As we see it, market forces and public risk reduction policies interact in unexpected ways, reducing incentives for communities to make long-term plans for retreating from the shore. Nourishing beaches and building seawalls signal to individuals and businesses that their risks are lower. This makes them more likely to build long-lasting structures in risky areas and renovate and maintain existing structures. As a result, their property values increase, which reinforces economic and political arguments for more risk-reduction engineering.
To illustrate this pattern, we compared a sample of houses in Nags Head and Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, two popular beach towns less than 10 miles apart on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. When we consulted county tax appraisal values, Nags Head beaches had routinely received sand from beach nourishment, whereas Kitty Hawk beaches had not. On average, homes in our Nags Head sample were worth over US$1 million, while homes in the Kitty Hawk sample were worth about $200,000.
Other researchers have found that in some locations, the threat of rising seas is eroding coastal property values. But this tends to be true for properties that are viewed as highly vulnerable – for example, homes that have already flooded. In contrast, homes that are elevated or have other flood-proofing features tend to have much higher values, so they are perceived as assets.
Subsidizing risky choices
Some amount of risk reduction makes sense. If people who benefited paid its full cost, and everyone involved understood how imminent the risk was and how much engineering solutions would cost, then market forces would likely produce reasonably efficient solutions.
As an example, flood-prone Norfolk, Virginia recently adopted an ordinance requiring almost all new homes and many major renovations to be elevated and include other flood-proofing features. This approach will help to price flood protection into the cost of homes and will tend to reduce demands to directly subsidize protective engineering, flood insurance and post-disaster assistance.
In our view, such solutions are a move in the right direction. But they will not break the positive feedback loop we describe as long as other public policies continue to skew perceptions of the long-term viability of coastal communities.
Information and uncertainty are larger problems. Many coastal residents do not perceive medium- and long-term climate risk to be as serious as the scientific consensus suggests. Moreover, scientists are still analyzing how fast sea levels are likely to rise. Future storm frequency is uncertain, and could be affected by changes in global greenhouse gas emission trends.
On the positive side, engineering innovations such as designing storm-resistant homes could become more effective. But existing approaches like beach nourishment are likely to become more expensive as sand resources diminish and more communities compete for them. And growing uncertainty is likely to increase near-term demand for risk reduction engineering.
The most critical time for adaptation decisions is immediately after a storm or flood. Faced with expensive repairs or rebuilding, property owners face higher costs to return to the status quo. But if homeowners expect that public resources will be spent to protect them against future disasters, they are less likely to consider making big changes.
Federal or state financial rebuilding assistance creates a similar bias. If that money were used to subsidize relocation or other drastic adaptive actions, rebuilding patterns would be different. So far, however, programs for buying out flood-damaged properties have been largely unsuccessful. Many factors, including residents’ level of experience with disaster recovery and financial concerns, can make people unwilling to consider relocating.
Incentives to think long-term
There is no perfect formula for balancing near-term climate-proofing against more drastic steps to move people away from the coasts. But we believe that when communities focus excessively on reducing near-term threats, they risk inhibiting the successful adaptation that they are trying to promote.
We have three suggestions for breaking this cycle. First, local land use policies could be designed to discourage rebuilding homes to similar or higher property values after damage from storms. Second, communities could put increasing emphasis on adaptive engineering and large-scale planning practices – for example, sunsetting beach nourishment projects when sea level rise reaches some preannounced level.
Finally, adaptation decisions could be planned and implemented at a multi-jurisdictional level, rather than town by town. This approach would help to avoid “rich towns get richer” dynamics that can develop when wealthier jurisdictions deploy sand resources and other protective measures in a way that reduces their own risk while ignoring or heightening threats to nearby locations.
Change is coming to coasts around the world. We believe that broader understanding of how markets and public policy interact is essential to minimize the social and economic costs of this change.
The economic damage from coastal flooding in Europe could reach almost €1 trillion per year by 2100 without new investment in adaptation to climate change, a new study finds.
The research looks at how rising sea levels and continued socioeconomic development will affect future coastal flood risk in 24 European countries.
In contrast to the past century, the main reason behind rising loses from coastal flooding will be global warming, rather than socioeconomic changes, the lead author tells Carbon Brief. The acceleration of loss is also unprecedented, he adds.
The UK would be the worst hit by far, the study finds, seeing up to €236bn in annual damages and 1.1 million people exposed to coastal flooding by 2100, if no upgrades are made to coastal protection.
Europe’s coastline stretches to more than 100,000km. Many of its coastal zones are highly populated and developed.
This leaves it vulnerable to increased coastal flooding due to extreme sea levels. These arise from a combination of sea level rise, tides, and storm surges and waves due to cyclones.
Future damages due to coastal flooding will also be highly dependent on socioeconomic changes, which will impact the number of people moving to the coast and the extent of development.
The new study, published in Nature Climate Change, aims to combine modelling of both extreme sea levels and socioeconomic development to show what damages could look like this century without further adaptation efforts.
It projects that the economic damages from these extreme events will increase from €1.25bn per year today to between €93bn and €961bn per year by 2100, depending on how socioeconomic trends play out over the rest of this century. This is a 75- to 770-fold increase on today’s levels.
Three socioeconomic scenarios are considered, as set out below. (Carbon Brief recently published an explainer about these new scenarios, which are known as “Shared Socioeconomic Pathways” or SSPs.)
“Sustainability” (SSP1), where the world shifts gradually towards sustainability, with emphasis on more inclusive development that respects environmental boundaries. This is combined with a future emissions scenario known as RCP4.5, whereby greenhouse gas emissions level off by 2050 and global temperatures rise by 2-3C above pre-industrial levels by 2100. Expected annual damages from coastal flooding hit €156bn by 2100, the study finds.
“Fragmented world” (SSP3), where countries focus on achieving energy and food security goals within their own regions at the expense of broader-based development. This is combined with RCP8.5, a high emission and low climate policy scenario where global temperatures reach around 4-6C above pre-industrial levels by 2100. Expected annual damages from coastal flooding reach €93bn by 2100, the study finds.
“Fossil fuel-based development” (SSP5), where a push for economic and social development is seen alongside the exploitation of abundant fossil fuel resources. This is again combined with the RCP8.5 high emissions scenario. Expected annual damages from coastal flooding reach €961bn by 2100, the study finds.
The graph below shows how these annual damages for the different scenarios pan out across different European countries by 2100.
The graph below shows how these annual damages for the different scenarios pan out across different European countries by 2100.
Expected median annual damage from coastal flooding for 24 European countries by 2100. The scenarios included are: RCP4.5-SSP1 (“Sustainability”), RCP8.5-SSP3 (“Fragmented world”), and RCP8.5-SSP5 (“Fossil fuel based development”). Source: Vousdoukas et al. (2018). Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.
It is worth noting that while emissions are the same for the “fragmented world” and “fossil-based development” scenarios, lower development and urbanisation leads to less economic exposure to extreme sea levels.
In all scenarios, the UK is the worst hit in absolute economic terms, followed by France and Norway. The UK – which today accounts for around a third of damages from coastal flooding – accounts for 22-28% of damages in Europe by 2100.
Dr Michalis Vousdoukas, an oceanographer at the European Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy, and lead author of the paper, tells Carbon Brief the high expected damages in the UK are due to its exposure to the oceanic waves of the North Atlantic. This is one of the most energetic areas in the world, he says, leading to more intense weather conditions than in Mediterranean countries, for example.
Dr Andra Garner, a postdoctoral fellow in sea-level research at Rutgers University in New Jersey, who was not involved with the research, says the results of the paper are “very telling”, although emphasises that any modelling study comes with caveats. She tells Carbon Brief:
“The results here indicate that, although socioeconomic choices can be important, rising sea levels ultimately dominate future flood risk in many regions, suggesting the need for swift action towards increasing adaptation measures and resilience planning in coastal communities.”
This is especially important, adds Garner, since the ocean responds slowly to a warming climate, which means that sea level rise impacts are likely to become even more severe beyond the end of the century.
The authors also looked at damages from coastal flooding in the shorter term. By mid-century, the study shows these would reach €21bn, €13bn and €39bn for, respectively, the “sustainability”, “fragmented world” and “fossil fuel-based development” scenarios. This is a 10- to 32-fold increase compared to the annual damage in 2000.
The breakdown of these costs among different countries by 2050 is shown in the chart below. In all scenarios, the UK is again the most affected in absolute terms, followed by France and Italy.
Expected median annual damage from coastal flooding for 24 European countries by 2050. The scenarios included are: RCP4.5-SSP1 (“Sustainability”), RCP8.5-SSP3 (“Fragmented world”), and RCP8.5-SSP5 (“Fossil fuel based development”). Source: Vousdoukas et al. (2018). Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.
According to the study, flood defences will need to be installed or reinforced to withstand increases in extreme sea levels of around 0.5m by 2050, and 1-2.5m by 2100, depending on the country.
The researchers also calculate the expected annual damages from European coastal flooding as a share of combined total gross domestic product (GDP).
Depending on the scenario, they find that coastal flooding damages will account for 0.06-0.09% of Europe’s GDP by 2050. This rises to 0.29-0.86% of GDP by 2100. This is up from current average damage from coastal flooding in Europe today of around 0.01% of GDP.
Some countries are particularly hard hit, when viewed in this way. The study finds Norway would see damages equal to between 1.7-5.9% of its GDP, depending on the scenario, by 2100. Damages in Cyprus would equal 1.7-8.3% of its GDP and in Ireland it would be 1.8-4.9% of GDP.
A key point here is that river flooding in Europe is currently much more damaging than coastal flooding in GDP terms, the study says, with an average €6bn in annual damages, equivalent to around 0.04% of GDP. This will change, according to the study, with flood risk increasingly dominated by coastal flood risk from 2050 onwards, unless flood-protection standards are upgraded. Vousdoukas tells Carbon Brief:
“In the future, the coastal flooding becomes four times more important than river flooding, because of the accelerating factor which is sea level rise basically. Coastal flooding will change so much, there will be so higher damages, that it will become more important. Then there needs to be spending there for protection.”
As well as looking at economic damages, the new study projects the number of people who will be affected by coastal flooding. This depends not only on the extent of increase in extreme events, but also how many are living in coastal zones. Therefore, as for economic damages, socioeconomic development will have a large impact alongside climate change.
The study finds the annual number of people in Europe exposed to flooding will rise from 102,000 today to between 530,000 and 740,000 by 2050 (again, in the absence of further adaptation measures). By 2100, 1.5 million Europeans would be affected by coastal flooding in the “fragmented world” scenario, the study finds, and 3.7 million in the “fossil fuel-based development” scenario.
The three graphs below show the projected number of people affected in each country for the three scenarios in 2100. Again, the UK is by far the most impacted across all three scenarios.
Expected median number of people affected by coastal flooding per year in 24 European countries in 2100. The scenarios included are: RCP4.5-SSP1 (“Sustainability”), RCP8.5-SSP3 (“Fragmented world”), and RCP8.5-SSP5 (“Fossil fuel-based development”). Source: Vousdoukas et al. (2018). Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.
It is important to remember that the projections in the study come with a very high uncertainty, Vousdoukas stresses.
The chart below shows the projected change of coastal flood impacts up to 2100 for the three scenarios. The dotted line show the median projections, as described above, while the coloured areas show the large potential range in the results.
Commenting on the paper, Dr Diego Rybski, deputy head of climate change and development group at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research tells Carbon Brief the paper “significantly contributes” to the understanding of coastal flood risk and sea level rise in Europe. However, he adds that such assessments of coastal flood risk are affected by further large uncertainties.
For example, he says, it is hard to know when the inundations are going to take place because coastal flood are very rare. The impact of a once-in-100-year event in the first half of the century could be very different than if it occured in the second half of the century. It is also possible that there is no such event, or more than one, during a given 100 years.
Vousdoukas, M, I. et al. (2018) Climatic and socioeconomic controls of future coastal flood risk in Europe, Nature Climate Change, . doi:10.1038/s41558-018-0260-4