New Studies Underscore Threats of Sea Level Rise. Will National Leaders Act?

The release of two new reports this week has put the dangers of sea level rise resulting largely from climate change on the front page of major media outlets all over the United States. The research finds that sea levels increased at a faster rate this past century than any other in nearly 3,000 years, putting coastal communities and infrastructure in harm’s way. While this is old news to the local elected officials on the front lines of sea level rise and coastal flooding, the research can hopefully inspire much-needed action at the federal level.

According to reports published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Climate Central, instances of “nuisance” flooding have dramatically increased in recent decades at locations on all three U.S. coasts. In Annapolis, Maryland for instance, the number of flooding days occurring from 2005 to 2014 increased 10-fold compared to those occurring from 1955 to 1964.

Vitally, the findings also indicate that human-caused climate change is driving the rise in coastal flooding. Increased global temperatures caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gases are extremely likely to have played at least some role in more than four out of five flooding days from Key West to Fernandina, Florida, and the study indicates that at the locations analyzed, more than 3,500 flood days since 1950 would not have occurred without human influence.

The new findings mirror what local officials from coastal communities across the United States have already been experiencing for years. In fact, last October, WRI helped bring together more than 40 local elected officials from 18 coastal states for the largest-ever bipartisan conference of elected officials on sea level rise. Republicans and Democrats alike shared stories of their communities being battered by unprecedented and increasing coastal flooding.

According to the new research, this problem is only going to get worse as the world continues to warm. We need strong action now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to lessen the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change on coastal communities. We know that additional resources are also needed for coastal communities to increase their resiliency efforts as they face rising seas.

At the local level, leaders from Norfolk, Virginia, to Miami, Florida, to La Jolla, California, are already taking action to mitigate and adapt, but it’s something that they can’t handle alone. Policy makers at the national level need to prioritize flood resiliency and ramp up climate change mitigation to prevent the worst impacts of sea level rise from coming to pass.

Unfortunately, there’s a political disconnect between the bipartisan action happening in local communities and the partisan divide at the national level. Candidates currently running for president aren’t giving this issue the consideration it deserves. Recently, a bipartisan group of 17 mayors from Florida, including the mayor of Miami, sent a letter to the presidential candidates from their state asking them to present a plan to address sea level rise. The mayors urged the candidates to consider local impacts ahead of political ideology and “address the upcoming crisis (sea level) presents our communities.”

In March, both political parties will hold presidential debates in Florida, ground zero for sea level rise in the United States. As the release of these two new studies underscore, it’s imperative that all candidates are pressed to present a clear plan for defending America’s coastlines from sea level rise and prevent the problem from threatening more homes, businesses, schools and communities in the coming decades.


Originally published at www.wri.org on February 24, 2016.

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