A new report concludes that it may be too late to stop extreme sea level events like coastal flooding, regardless of whether we curb emissions.
On Wednesday (September 25), the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released “Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.” The most exhaustive report to date on oceans, ice sheets and permafrost, it was written by more than 100 scientists from 36 countries who examined 7,000+ published studies.
Per The New York Times:
Earth’s oceans are under severe strain from climate change, a major new United Nations report warns, threatening everything from the ability to harvest seafood to the well-being of hundreds of millions of people living along the coasts.
“The oceans are sending us so many warning signals that we need to get emissions under control,” Hans-Otto Pörtner, a marine biologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany and a lead author of the report, told the Times in an interview. “Ecosystems are changing, food webs are changing, fish stocks are changing, and this turmoil is affecting humans.”
While the entire world will be affected by these changes, a certain demographic is at increased risk: people living in coastal communities. These include residents of many of the world’s megacities (including New York and Los Angeles). And as Colorlines previously reported, in the United States, coastal communities are disproportionately occupied by people of color.
Globally, the sea level rose by about six inches during the 20th century, and it is currently on course to rise more than twice as fast, the report showed. Even if massive cuts in emissions begin immediately, The Guardian reports that significant sea level rise is already inevitable because of the slow rate at which ice caps and glaciers melt.
The report recommends that coastal cities build sea walls—which could be cost prohibitive for some municipalities—and move people who live in low-lying areas further inland. Miami is already experiencing gentrification, as wealthy Whites move into neighborhoods like Little Haiti and Overton that are on higher land and have historically been populated by lower-income earning people of color.
While the report predicts that extreme flooding that was once rare could start happening once a year in many coastal regions this century, parts of the United States already experience this. As the Texas Observer notes, Tropical Storm Imelda—which last week caused flooding that was almost at 2017’s Hurricane Harvey levels—was southeast Texas’ fifth 500-year flood in five years. “It’s a sign of the times,” Bryan Parras of Sierra Club, told the Observer. “Something’s gotta change.”