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Climate changes and impact on coastal countries

Risk of sea-level rise: High stakes for developing countries 
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February 12, 2007
—The impact of sea level rise from global warming could be catastrophic for many developing countries – the World Bank estimates that even a one meter rise would turn at least 56 million people in the developing world into environmental refugees.

This is the finding of a new World Bank working paper, “The impact of sea level rise on developing countries : a comparative analysis”*.  The authors are Susmita Dasgupta, Benoit Laplante, Craig Meisner, David Wheeler, and Jianping Yan.

Alternative sea levels effect on GDP, population, agriculture and urban areas - graphicsThe research uses satellite maps of the world overlaid with comparable data for 84 coastal developing countries to calculate the toll of such changes on people, gross domestic product (GDP), urban areas, and agriculture in five developing regions.

“Overwhelming evidence and early warning signs of human-induced climate change confirm the reality of global warming. Our socio-economic research evaluates the magnitude of the outcome and urgency of formulating preventive and protective measures in the event of sea level rise. However, the question of when it will occur can only be determined by scientific studies,” says Senior Economist and co-author Susmita Dasgupta.

“Knowing which countries will be most-affected could allow better targeting of scarce available resources and could spur vulnerable nations to develop national adaptation plans now and avoid big losses later,” explains Dasgupta.

“It’s vitally important for these countries to know, if sea level rises by 1 meter, what will be the impact; what will be the inundation area; population affected; GDP lost; loss in agricultural area; urban area; and wetlands?” she adds.

The authors calculate that, with a one meter sea-level rise, approximately 0.3 percent, or 194,000 square kilometers and 56 million people (1.28 percent of the population) in 84 developing countries would be impacted.  An estimated 1.3 percent of GDP would be lost for those countries. 

Loss estimates were also calculated for up to a 5 meter level rise.

The paper takes both a global and a regional perspective.  In terms of population impacted, the top 10 countries/territories worldwide are: Vietnam, A.R. of Egypt, Mauritania, Suriname, Guyana, French Guiana (Fr), Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, The Bahamas and Benin.

In Vietnam, an estimated 10.8 percent of the nation’s population would be displaced with even a 1 meter sea level rise – and disproportionately high impacts in the Mekong and Red River deltas.

Impact of sea level rises on Rosetta, on the Nile deltaA.R. of Egypt’s Nile Delta would be similarly affected, with 10.5 percent of the population at risk, and 25 percent of the delta inundated.

Looking across regions, East Asia and the Middle East & North Africa would experience the largest percentage impacts from sea level rise.

Within South Asia, Bangladesh would experience the largest percentage of share of land area impacted.  With a 1 meter sea level rise, the populations of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka experience similar impacts (about 0.8 percent of total population would be displaced).

Under the provisions of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), some work has begun on National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs).  These are intended to facilitate the identification of priority activities, including adaptation to sea level rise for the least-developed countries. 

“A few countries have initiated adaptation plans, but the momentum of action has been slow. We hope that the information provided in this paper will encourage more rapid action on this front,” says Dasgupta.

*The paper went to press on January 18, 2007, before the fourth Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change report.

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  Related links:  Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change
                     Center for Global Development post by David Wheeler, one of the paper's co-authors

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