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Europe needs major coastal overhaul to avoid disastrous flooding

Two studies from the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC) have projected the future costs of major flooding events along the coast of Europe. The researchers found that, without increased investment in resilient infrastructure along the coast, the annual damage caused by floods could increase from 1.25 billion Euros today to between 93 and 961 billion Euros by the end of the century.

According to the experts, these coastal floods could impact up to 3.65 million people every year in Europe by 2100, primarily due to an increase in extreme sea levels driven by global warming.

The scientists estimated how extreme sea levels will change during the present century. They also investigated how this sea level rise will affect future losses from coastal flooding when combined with socioeconomic change.

The team accounted for two scenarios – one where moderate policy efforts are made to mitigate climate change and another “business as usual” scenario where climate change continues at its current rate.

The study revealed that – unless adaptation measures are adopted very quickly – there is an unprecedented flood risk. More specifically, defense structures need to be modified to withstand an increase in sea levels ranging from 0.5 to 2.5 meters in order for Europe to keep future coastal flood losses constant relative to the size of the economy.

Across the globe, the projected rise in costs from coastal flooding is now mainly attributed to climate change, whereas before it was primarily driven by socioeconomic development.

The rising sea levels are mainly triggered by thermal expansion, but retreating ice cover across regions such as Greenland and Antarctica are now also making large contributions to sea level rise.

The results of the JRC studies have been published in Nature Climate Change and Nature Communications.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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