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US climate report suggests $500bn of property below sea level by 2100

Sea Level Rise

Risky Business report estimates $238bn to $507bn worth of property will be below sea level by 2100. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images


Powered by article titled “US climate report suggests $500bn of property below sea level by 2100” was written by Emma Howard Boyd, for on Thursday 3rd July 2014 15.15 UTC

The day after the publication of new figures revealing that May 2014 was the hottest globally since records began in 1880, came the publication of a new report, Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States.

The product of a bipartisan group, bringing together the former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg, three former US Treasury Secretaries (Hank Paulson, Robert Rubin and George Schultz), and the billionaire investor Tom Steyer, Risky Business shows the growing realisation that tackling climate change is both an economic imperative and an enormous opportunity. The publication of the report is yet another indication that the financial community is beginning to take climate change seriously.

The report came hot on the heels of a series of speeches, reports and policy initiatives that have pushed climate change back up the agenda in the US.

The first signs of this came early in the year with president Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he stated “Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

This was subsequently reinforced when the president delivered a major policy speech in May at West Point Military Academy claiming that fighting climate change was every bit as important to the US’ national security as stopping terrorism or working to stop countries from obtaining nuclear weapons.

In early May, the National Climate Assessment set out the dangers of a changing climate that has moved from distant threat to present-day danger, with no American left unscathed. And in early June, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the Clean Power Plan, which will require power plants to reduce carbon emissions 30% below 2005 levels by the year 2030.

Focusing on the public health agenda, the EPA estimates the emissions reductions will avoid up to 6,000 premature deaths, 140-150,000 asthma attacks in children, and nearly 500,000 sick days. The Clean Power Plan has public health and climate benefits worth an estimated $55bn to $93bn per year in 2030, which it says far outweigh the costs of $7.3bn to $8.8bn.

The Risky Business report is different; it’s a deliberate attempt to depoliticise the issue of climate change, it frames climate change as a risk issue and talks about the economic costs in a US context: damage to coastal property and infrastructure from rising sea levels and increased storm surge, climate-driven changes in agricultural production and the impact of higher temperatures on labour productivity public health and energy.

It’s a powerful message because it links to people’s own lives and livelihoods, made real because of the impacts of Hurricane Sandy on the east coast and the ongoing droughts in California and the midwest.

Some of the headline findings:

Coastal property and infrastructure

“If we continue on our current path, by 2050 between $66bn and $106bn worth of existing coastal property will likely be below sea level nationwide, with $238bn to $507bn worth of property below sea level by 2100.”


“Absent agricultural adaptation, if we continue on our current path, national commodity crop production (corn, soy, wheat and cotton) could decline by 14% by mid-century and up to 42% by late century as extreme heat spreads across the middle of the country.”

Impact of higher temperatures

“By the middle of this century, the average American will likely experience 27 to 50 days each year with temperatures reaching more than 95°F [35C] —up to more than three times the average number of 95°F days we’ve seen over the past 30 years … Demand for electricity for air conditioning will surge in those parts of the country facing the most extreme temperature increases, straining regional generation and transmission capacity and driving up costs for consumers.”


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