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Impacts And Responses To Sea-level Rise: A Global Analysis Of The SRES Scenarios Over The Twenty-first Century

Robert J Nicholls, Richard S.J Tol

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Taking the Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES) climate and socio-economic scenarios (A1FI, A2, B1 and B2 ‘future worlds’), the potential impacts of sea-level rise through the twenty-first century are explored using complementary impact and economic analysis methods at the global scale. These methods have never been explored together previously. In all scenarios, the exposure and hence the impact potential due to increased flooding by sea-level rise increases significantly compared to the base year (1990). While mitigation reduces impacts, due to the lagged response of sea-level rise to atmospheric temperature rise, impacts cannot be avoided during the twenty-first century by this response alone. Cost–benefit analyses suggest that widespread protection will be an economically rational response to land loss due to sea-level rise in the four SRES futures that are considered. The most vulnerable future worlds to sea-level rise appear to be the A2 and B2 scenarios, which primarily reflects differences in the socio-economic situation (coastal population, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and GDP/capita), rather than the magnitude of sea-level rise. Small islands and deltaic settings stand out as being more vulnerable as shown in many earlier analyses. Collectively, these results suggest that human societies will have more choice in how they respond to sea-level rise than is often assumed. However, this conclusion needs to be tempered by recognition that we still do not understand these choices and significant impacts remain possible. Future worlds which experience larger rises in sea-level than considered here (above 35 cm), more extreme events, a reactive rather than proactive approach to adaptation, and where GDP growth is slower or more unequal than in the SRES futures remain a concern. There is considerable scope for further research to better understand these diverse issues.