A few weeks ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a startling report that predicted the US coastline would see on average a foot and up to 18 inches of sea level rise by 2050. The agency said the next 50 years of potential sea level rise after that will be heavily influenced by the amount of fossil fuels — coal, oil, and natural gas — that’s burned, releasing carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere and causing it to continue warming up. This week, the long-term sea level rise outlook took a turn for the worse when a report was released that said the world reached a record for CO2 emissions in 2021.
The International Energy Agency (IEA), an autonomous intergovernmental organization that helps countries shape energy policies, analyzed public and private energy and economic data to reach the conclusion that “global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose by 6% in 2021 to 36.3 billion tonnes, their highest ever level”. The IEA blamed the increase in CO2 emissions on the global economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis and an increased reliance on coal when the price of natural gas spiked.
The IEA said in a press release that the “world must now ensure that the global rebound in emissions in 2021 was a one-off and that an accelerated energy transition contributes to global energy security”.
The recent NOAA report explained why reducing, not increasing, emissions is critically important to coastal communities. The report said: “About 2 feet (0.6 meters) of sea level rise along the U.S. coastline is increasingly likely between 2020 and 2100 because of emissions to date. Failing to curb future emissions could cause an additional 1.5-5 feet (0.5-1.5 meters) of rise for a total of 3.5-7 feet (1.1 – 2.1 meters) by the end of this century.”
It’s important to note here that the government researchers admitted that they’re still not exactly certain what impact sudden changes in glacial ice melt in Greenland and Antarctica could have on sea level rise in the decades to come. An ice shelf collapse that results in a sudden release of land based-glaciers into the ocean in Antarctica or a rapid acceleration in the melting of land-based snow and ice in Greenland could lead to a faster than predicted increase in sea level rise.
The bottom line here is that if humans don’t radically cut back on the release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, all of the sea level rise predictions could turn out to be dangerously conservative. The first one foot of human-driven sea level rise is costing coastal communities — and residential and commercial real estate owners — billions of dollars to repair flood damage and prevent additional damage. The next foot of sea level rise in the next 30 years will certainly compound the problem. Add more on top of that and a lot of coastal real estate will become uninhabitable.