As the climate changes during the 21st century, larger cyclonic storm surges and growing populations may collide in disasters of unprecedented size. As conditions worsen, variations in coastal morphology will magnify the effects in some areas, while largely insulating others.
CGD senior fellow David Wheeler wrote about the dangers of rising sea levels in a 2007 blog post, and a previous working paper, on which this one builds, features prominently in a September 24, 2009, article in The New York Times.
In this paper, Wheeler and his co-authors explore the implications of sea-level rise and storm surges for 84 developing countries and 577 of their cyclone-vulnerable coastal cities with populations greater than 100,000. Combining the most recent scientific and demographic information, they estimate the future impact of climate change on storm surges that will strike coastal populations, economies, and ecosystems. We focus on the distribution of heightened impacts, because we believe that greater knowledge of their probable variation will be useful for local and national planners, as well as international donors. Our results suggest gross inequality in the heightened impact of future disasters, with the most severe effects limited to a small number of countries and a small cluster of large cities.
An additional spreadsheet (.xls 53k), of special interest to planners in developing countries, includes more complete city-level results than what is included in the paper.