Sea-level rise and its possible impacts given a ‘beyond 4°C world’ in the twenty-first century

Robert J. Nicholls, Natasha Marinova, Jason A. Lowe, Sally Brown, Pier Vellinga, Diogo de Gusmão, Jochen Hinkel, Richard S. J. Tol

Abstract

The range of future climate-induced sea-level rise remains highly uncertain with continued concern that large increases in the twenty-first century cannot be ruled out. The biggest source of uncertainty is the response of the large ice sheets of Greenland and west Antarctica. Based on our analysis, a pragmatic estimate of sea-level rise by 2100, for a temperature rise of 4°C or more over the same time frame, is between 0.5 m and 2 m—the probability of rises at the high end is judged to be very low, but of unquantifiable probability. However, if realized, an indicative analysis shows that the impact potential is severe, with the real risk of the forced displacement of up to 187 million people over the century (up to 2.4% of global population). This is potentially avoidable by widespread upgrade of protection, albeit rather costly with up to 0.02 per cent of global domestic product needed, and much higher in certain nations. The likelihood of protection being successfully implemented varies between regions, and is lowest in small islands, Africa and parts of Asia, and hence these regions are the most likely to see coastal abandonment. To respond to these challenges, a multi-track approach is required, which would also be appropriate if a temperature rise of less than 4°C was expected. Firstly, we should monitor sea level to detect any significant accelerations in the rate of rise in a timely manner. Secondly, we need to improve our understanding of the climate-induced processes that could contribute to rapid sea-level rise, especially the role of the two major ice sheets, to produce better models that quantify the likely future rise more precisely. Finally, responses need to be carefully considered via a combination of climate mitigation to reduce the rise and adaptation for the residual rise in sea level. In particular, long-term strategic adaptation plans for the full range of possible sea-level rise (and other change) need to be widely developed.

View Full Text