By Student Delegate Isabella Smith
Reports about sea-level rise worldwide are quite grim. A study done by Cornell University estimates rising seas could result in two billion climate refugees by 2100. And this is not just a distant, future issue – it is already uprooting people around the world.
Most residents of Papua New Guinea’s Carteret Islands have already relocated. In another island nation, the government of the Maldives purchased land in 2008 for the foreseeable relocation of its 350,000 residents. Still another example, the region where the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers meet is home to 125 million people, and it is the most vulnerable region in the world to sea-level rise. People in this region have already started to flee to nearby cities like Dhaka, leading to deteriorating infrastructure and the emigration of wealthier citizens. Even in countries in the Global North, like the United States, Isle de Jean Charles residents are the first recipients of federal funding targeted to relocate the entire population due to rising sea levels and increased storm surges. The list continues on and on. However, there are actions that the global community can take right now to both mitigate and adapt to changing sea levels.
The most obvious solution is to meet or exceed the requirements of the Paris Agreement by keeping global temperatures under 2º Celsius. The more global temperatures rise, the more ice melts and seawater expands, leading to higher sea levels. Therefore, the lower the global temperatures, the lower the sea levels, the more land area and fewer climate refugees. If nation’s meet or exceed the promises of their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) we can accomplish this goal. Additionally, considering many of the nations that contribute the least to climate change are the most affected, historically high emitters need to work diligently to meet the promises of their NDCs.
Another highly feasible, low-cost solution lies in green infrastructure. According to Conservation International, $94 trillion will be spent on infrastructure globally in the next 20 years. In the U.S. alone, the current gray infrastructure, such as concrete seawalls and jetties, needs $4.6 trillion worth of repairs by 2025.
Green infrastructure presents a perfect solution for these global needs that more effectively protects coastlines and mitigates sea level rise. Green infrastructure includes the revitalization of coastal wetlands, mangroves, marshes, and oyster reefs. Just fifteen feet of marsh can absorb up to 50% of incoming wave energy, while 330 feet of mangroves can reduce wave height by 66%. Living shorelines can serve as much needed carbon sinks and even improve water quality and aquatic habitat. Finally, green infrastructure is usually higher quality, more resilient, and more cost-effective.
The effects of global sea-level rise are inevitable. However, the global community still has significant viable options to mitigate impacts and protect coastlines.