Global sea levels could rise by 2m, swamping an area equivalent to that of France, Germany, Spain and Britain combined and displacing up to 187mn people by the end of the century, if emissions continue unchecked, a new study has warned.
A group of the world’s leading ice scientists last week released a study, which revealed sea levels may rise much faster than previously estimated, due to the accelerating melting of ice sheets in both Greenland and Antarctica.
The international researchers predict that in the worst case scenario under which global temperatures increase by 5C by 2100, sea levels could rise by more than 2m in the same period – double the upper limit outlined by the UN climate science panel’s last major report.
Such a situation would be “catastrophic,” the authors of the study warn.
“It really is pretty grim,” lead author Jonathan Bamber, a professor of Physical Geography at the University of Bristol told CNN. “Two metres is not a good scenario.”
He said the mass displacement of people in low-lying coastal areas would likely result in serious social upheaval. It would also pose an “existential threat” to small island nations in the Pacific which would be left pretty much uninhabitable.
The researchers found that under the extreme-case scenario, about 1.79mn sq km – an area more than three times the size of California – would be lost to the sea!
The Paris climate deal, struck between nations in 2015, aims to limit global temperature rises to well below two degrees Celsius and encourages countries to work towards a 1.5C cap.
Previous estimates for sea-level rises come from a 2013 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Using computer models of future warming, that assessment predicted that if emissions are not reduced, the planet could warm by around 5C and sea levels will rise between 52 and 98cm before the end of the century.
For the new analysis, researchers collected the opinions of some 22 experts on ice sheet melt. Based on these assessments, the researchers concluded that sea levels could in fact rise between 62 and 238cm by the end of the century.
In the most extreme case, about 1.79mn sq km — an area the size of Libya as scientists have put it — of land could be lost to the sea.
“This kind of survey of experts is important, because computer models are not perfect at predicting the future,” Tamsin Edwards, a climate scientist at King’s College London who was not involved in the research, told BBC.
Clearly, the new study has provided a grim forecast for several coastal cities around the globe. It says humankind has quite a narrow window of opportunity to avoid some of the worst consequences, such as very high sea level rise.
Therefore, what we decide to do collectively at a global level, perhaps over the next one decade, will largely determine the future of the next generations in terms of the habitability of the planet and what sort of environment they live in.
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