Many of the U.S.’s loveliest national parks—favorites for tourists,
families and recreational athletes—lie along its shores. They attract
millions of visitors a year and they are under threat from rising sea
levels caused by climate change.
Just ahead of the two-year anniversary of the announcement of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, as well as the heavy summer tourist season, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell released a study, Adapting to Climate Change in Coastal Parks: Estimating the Exposure of Park Assets to 1 m of Sea-Level Rise, compiled
by the National Park Service and Western Carolina University’s Program
for the Study of Developed Shorelines. It looked at 40 parks in the
contiguous 48 states considered most threatened and found that more than
$40 billion in park infrastructure and historic and cultural assets is
at risk of being damaged by rising sea levels. And those comprise only a
third of those considered at risk—the study is ongoing and an analysis
of an additional 30 parks will be released later this summer.
“National Park Service (NPS) coastal units contain the last remaining
large stretches of relatively undeveloped shorelines in the nation,”
says the study. “These parks contain a wide range of natural resources,
cultural resources and recreational facilities. The parks also contain
infrastructure providing access to each unit. Over the next century (and
beyond), more NPS resources will be exposed to and threatened by rising
ocean waters. Numerous coastal units, particularly low-lying barrier
parks, are already dealing with sea-level rise (SLR) threats to
resources and assets.”
Most endangered are the low-lying barrier parks on the country’s
southeastern Atlantic seacoast. The cost of rebuilding or replacing
historic structures such as lighthouses and tourist centers at North
Carolina’s Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina alone is
estimated at nearly $1.2 billion—without even factoring in loss of lands
and tourist income.
Ten NPS national seashores listed most at risk are popular
destinations for millions of Americans including some of its most
visited and beloved beach areas.
Bangladesh is the country most at risk from the impacts of
climate change, according to the 2013 Climate Change Vulnerability Index
(CCVI) prepared by international consultancy firm Maplecroft.
Two other countries in South Asia are in the extreme risk category,
India being found the 20th most vulnerable among the 193 countries
studied, and Pakistan 24th. Of the countries dependent on the Hindu Kush
Himalayas, China – at 61st position – is in the high risk category too.
Maplecroft has also calculated climate risks that will be faced by 50
cities around the world over the next 30 years. The study found five
cities at “extreme risk”, of which three are in South Asia – Dhaka (in
Bangladesh), Mumbai and Kolkata (both in India).
The study also found that Shenzhen and the Pearl River Delta, “which
encompasses the cities of Guangzhou, Dongguan and Foshan and make up
China’s manufacturing heartland, are among the most exposed to physical
risks from extreme climate-related events,” according to a Maplecroft
The company has been studying climate impact risks since 2008. This
year they found that by 2025, 31% of global economic output will be
based in countries facing high or extreme risks. This is a 50% increase
on current levels and more than double since the study began six year
Maplecroft’s 2013 Climate Change and Environmental Risk Atlas
shows that 67 countries with an estimated combined output of $44
trillion, will be among the countries under increasing threat from the
physical impacts of more frequent and extreme climate-related events,
such as severe storms, flooding or drought.
The CCVI shows that economic impacts will be worst in Bangladesh,
Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Haiti, South Sudan, Nigeria, Democratic
Republic of Congo, Cambodia, Philippines and Ethiopia, in that order.
Maplecroft has developed the index to identify climate-related risks
to populations, business and governments over the next 30 years, down to
a level of 22 square kilometres. It evaluates three factors: exposure
to extreme climate-related events, including sea level rise and future
changes in temperature, precipitation and specific humidity; the
sensitivity of populations, in terms of health, education, agricultural
dependence and available infrastructure; and the adaptive capacity of
countries to combat the impacts of climate change, which encompasses
research and development, economic factors, resource security and the
effectiveness of government.
By 2025, China’s GDP is estimated to treble from current levels to
$28 trillion, while India’s is forecast to rise to $5 trillion –
totalling nearly 23% of global economic output between them. And these
are among the countries in the high and extreme risk categories,
Cyclone Phailin, which hit India’s east coast this October, caused an
estimated $4.15 billion of damage to the agriculture and power sectors
alone in the state of Odisha. Up to a million tons of rice were
destroyed, while key infrastructure, including roads, ports, railway and
telecommunications were severely damaged.
James Allan, Head of Environment at Maplecroft, said, “With global
brands investing heavily in vulnerable growth markets to take advantage
of the spending power of rising middle class populations, we are seeing
increasing business exposure to extreme climate related events on
multiple levels, including their operations, supply chains and consumer
base. Cyclone Phailin demonstrates the critical need for business to
monitor the changing frequency and intensity of climate related events,
especially where infrastructure and logistics are weak.”
According to Maplecroft, the ability of highly vulnerable countries
to manage the direct impact of extreme events on infrastructure will be a
significant factor in mitigating the economic impacts of climate change
and may present opportunities for investment. Burt adaptive measures
such as building flood defences and greater infrastructure resiliency
will need sustained commitment of governments.