MAP: Global Flood Damage Could Exceed $1 Trillion Annually by 2050

Find out which cities are most at risk.


flood costs map

Tim McDonnell/Climate Desk

As climate change intensifies, one of the most surefire threats we’re bound to face is increased flooding of coastal cities brought on by sea level rise. Taxpayers worldwide will be faced with more whopping bills—like the estimated $60 billion cost of Superstorm Sandy—to clean up damage in the wake of these events. But just how much money are we talking about here? According to a study out today in Nature, it’s a freakishly large number: A dangerous combination of rising seas, sinking land, and growing coastal development could push global flood damages to well over $1 trillion every year by 2050.

Stephane Hallegatte, an economist at the World Bank, and his coauthors tallied up estimated flood damage losses for the world’s 136 largest coastal cities, on the basis of local population and real estate and infrastructure values crunched with data on each location’s elevation, exposure to extreme weather like hurricanes, and existing coastal protection infrastructure. Then he extrapolated these costs into the future using UN population and urbanization models, economic models from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and climate models of future sea level rise. The results were staggering: The $1 trillion figure, Hallegatte says, is just the bare minimum.

Without action to better protect these vulnerable metropolises, he says, “even in cities that are very well-protected today, losses will reach levels that are completely impossible to imagine.” The map above shows the 20 cities with the highest estimated losses in the absence of any proactive measures.

Sounds grim, but there’s a silver lining: Installing robust protective infrastructure that accounts not just for sea level rise but also population growth and future shoreline development could reduce annual losses to $52 billion. As is so often the case with climate change preparation, investment up front can save big bucks down the road. After all, Hallegatte says, even the cost of massive sea walls, natural barriers, and other coastal protection will seem like chump change compared to a scenario where “we have cities destroyed and we have to rebuild them again and again.”

More MotherJones reporting on Climate Desk

$500,000 MATCHING GIFT

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones: A special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of the huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.