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Coastal Wetlands Highly Vulnerable to Sea-Level Rise

  • Sea-level rise by a meter from climate change could destroy more than 60 percent of the developing world’s coastal wetlands currently found at one meter or less elevation.
  • An estimate of the economic value of the goods and services produced by wetlands at risk is approximately $630 million per year in 2000 U.S. dollars.
  • Most of the damages would be concentrated in a few countries in East Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

WASHINGTON, Mar 1, 2013 – A rise in sea levels by a meter from climate change could destroy more than 60 percent of the developing world’s coastal wetlands currently found at one meter or less elevation, according to a World Bank study. That would lead to economic losses of around $630 million per year.

The World Bank analysis considers a variety of types of coastal wetlands at risk in 76 countries and territories, using a number of databases and satellite maps. According to the data, about 99% of the coastal wetlands at elevations of one meter or less in the Middle East and North Africa could disappear, as well as 77% in sub-Saharan Africa, 66% in East Asia and 39% in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Most of the damages would be concentrated in a few countries in East Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. For example, about three-quarters of coastal fresh-water marshes that would be affected by the one-meter rise in sea levels worldwide are located in five countries: Argentina, China, Iran, Mexico and Vietnam. Similarly, 61% of saline wetlands at risk are in Egypt and Libya.

In recent years, coastal wetlands have been disappearing more quickly than other ecosystems, mainly because of land development. Sea-level rise from climate change will exacerbate these losses. The rise in sea levels will lead to wetlands being submerged, pushed inland, or blanketed with salt. How those wetlands fare will vary, depending on the slopes and water flows in the surrounding area.

“The findings are alarming, because wetlands don’t exist just for the birds and plants – people rely on them for water, food, transportation, and other essential goods and services,” says Susmita Dasgupta, a lead environment economist at the Bank’s Development Research Group. She co-authored the study with colleague Brian Blankespoor and consultant Benoit Laplante. “We hope our research can motivate steps to protect wetlands, especially since global warming will for sure accelerate the rise of sea levels.”

The resulting economic losses from coastal wetland destruction will be in addition to other coastal impacts such as the forced relocation of people and infrastructure. An earlier study co-authored by Dasgupta predicted that 60 million people in developing countries would be forced out of their homes if sea levels rise by one meter.

The wetlands study comes as World Bank President Jim Yong Kim is urging the global community to take action on climate change.




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