A study out Wednesday from Science Advances highlights the growing flood risk regions around the world will see in the next 25 years, primarily driven by greenhouse gases already emitted into the atmosphere. Significant numbers of people on every continent are threatened by river flooding, with the need for adaptation greatest in the U.S., parts of India and Africa, Indonesia, and in Central Europe.
And tens of millions of lives are at risk if governments don’t get their shit together and implement policies or build infrastructure to better protect citizens. Building standards must improve, people should relocate, and rivers gotta’ be properly managed—or else.
“We ask the question: How much do you have to improve your local protection levels now in order to keep the flood risk in the next 25 years the same as you had it in the last 25 years?” study co-author Anders Levermann, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, told to E&E News.
Climate change is already set to continue warming Earth’s temperature for the next 20 to 30 years despite any effort to stop greenhouse emissions today. As we know all too well, our planet’s precipitation patterns will change, making flooding more common in many areas as stronger storms are forecast.
Parts of France are feeling this challenge right now as torrential rains from Storm Eleanor push rivers literally over the edge, flooding communities. At least five people have died in the last week. Paris’ River Seine was steadily rising, keeping Parisians on alert. That could very well become the norm in the future.
Asia will see the worst of it, according to the study, as it has a serious history with river floods. That history came to light just last year when severe flooding killed more than 1,400 people in South Asia—driven largely by river flooding. In the middle of the Bangladesh summer, the Brahmaputra River overflowed, tearing through the country. In 2016, India’s Ganges River sparked record-breaking floods.
The United States is no stranger to floods. The study indicates 42 states, as well as Washington, D.C., will experience a heightened flood risk if local, state, or the federal authorities fail to mitigate it. Some states do have some level of protection—perhaps through infrastructure or flood insurance—but the study authors suggest states that see protections for a flood once every 500 years should come to expect these floods more often and, hence, increase their level of protection. Otherwise, a million people across North America will bear the consequences. Today, that number is only 100,000, meaning a tenfold spike is forecast.
“We have been surprised to find that even in developed countries with good infrastructure the need for adaptation is big,” Levermann said in a press release.
All these numbers are fairly conservative; they don’t account for a population boom. And the study looks at the impacts of what we’ve already emitted. This stuff is locked in, man. As countries and individuals continue emitting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the risk of overflowing rivers only intensifies.
“The time has come where mitigating future climate change must be accompanied by adapting to the climate change that we already caused,” Levermann said. “Doing nothing will be dangerous.”