THE ECONOMIST on Sea Level Rise


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THE ECONOMIST on Sea Level Rise

John Englander
By John Englander and 08/19/19

THE ECONOMIST is widely recognized as one of the finest magazines in the world. I would describe it as global, insightful, well written, sober, yet willing to be provocative; with a wry wit. They have taken up the topic of climate change, the thawing Arctic and sea level rise on several occasions in recent years.

As shown here on the cover of the current issue – August 17 – one of the bulleted topics is:

How to prepare for rising sea levels.  In fact, they have done two articles:

1) a short Leader, “A world without beaches: One Way or another the deluge is coming. How to prepare for rising sea-levels”, and

2) a more robust Briefing, “Climate change is a remorseless threat to the world’s coasts”   It is a substantial article, taking a good few minutes to read. (Links to both articles are below.)

I recommend reading the full articles, but here are the key points that stand out to me. It generally echoes the message most of you already have heard from me.


  • The need to adapt to higher seas is now a fact of life.
  • A billion people now live no more than ten metres above sea level. And it is coming to get them.
  • In 30 years the damage to coastal cities could reach $1 trillion a year.
  • By 2100, [even] if the Paris agreement’s preferred target to keep warming below 1.5°C relative to preindustrial levels were met, [some estimates say that] sea levels would rise by 50cm [1.5 feet] from today, causing worldwide damage to property equivalent to 1.8% of global GDP a year.
  • Failure to enact meaningful emissions reductions would push the seas up by another 30-40cm, and cause extra damage worth 2.5% of GDP.
  • Forecasts of sea-level rise are vexed with uncertainties [but there is] strong consensus that the rate is accelerating as the world warms up the seas would continue rising for some time, even if warming stopped tomorrow. [emphasis is mine]
  • Today’s mitigation measures are not enough to keep warming “well below” 2ºC [3.6ºF], the target enshrined in the Paris agreement.
  • In the absence of more radical action, 3ºC [5.4ºF] looks more likely. That would suggest a sea-level rise of between 60cm and 180cm [6 feet] from thermal expansion alone.
    130,000 years ago, [global average sea level] was perhaps nine metres [29.5 feet] higher than it is today.
  • The inertia in the climate system means … even the most radical cuts in emissions—nor … a dimming of sunlight…by…solar geoengineering—will stop sea levels dead in their tracks.
  • Adaptation will be necessary. But there is little appetite to pay for it.
  • A rise that seems precipitous to Earth scientists remains well beyond the planning horizons of most businesses: even utilities rarely take a century-long perspective.
  • Actuaries calculate that governments investing $1 in climate resilience today will save $5 in losses tomorrow. That is a good return on public investment. [but] Governments can always find more pressing concerns, both at home and when helping others abroad.
  • The lack of action reflects a lack of drama. The oceans will not suddenly crush all the world’s coasts like some biblical retribution or Hollywood tsunami.
  • It will rise slowly, like a tide, its encroachment as imperceptible from moment to moment as it is inexorable.
  • But unlike a tide, it will not turn. Once the oceans rise, they will not fall back.

CCR REPOST from John Englander’s website: