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10 October 2019

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Even if we stop all greenhouse emissions today – which is not exactly realistic – sea levels will continue to rise. That’s not to say that what we do doesn’t matter. In fact, it matters a great deal. But the sea level rise we see today is the consequence of global warming that started from emissions released decades ago. Large bodies of water like the oceans have a great heat capacity – they warm up slowly and keep that temperature for a long time. This means that changes in sea level lag behind warming of the atmosphere.

In a new report by the IPCC, we found that the average (or “mean”) global sea level rise on coastlines around the world is likely to be 20-40cm by 2050. There will be regional differences, but all parts of the world will be affected. While this amount of sea level rise may sound manageable, it’s important to keep in mind that other factors will exacerbate the problem.

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sc_plenary.jpg

plenary room

Even if we stop all greenhouse emissions today – which is not exactly realistic – sea levels will continue to rise. That’s not to say that what we do doesn’t matter. In fact, it matters a great deal. But the sea level rise we see today is the consequence of global warming that started from emissions released decades ago. Large bodies of water like the oceans have a great heat capacity – they warm up slowly and keep that temperature for a long time. This means that changes in sea level lag behind warming of the atmosphere.

In a new report by the IPCC, we found that the average (or “mean”) global sea level rise on coastlines around the world is likely to be 20-40cm by 2050. There will be regional differences, but all parts of the world will be affected. While this amount of sea level rise may sound manageable, it’s important to keep in mind that other factors will exacerbate the problem.

Today, the worst impacts are mostly felt in places where sea level rise has combined with sinking land, also known as subsidence. Subsidence is a natural process, but the weight of high rise buildings and the emptying of underground water reservoirs tends to speed it up. That’s why sinking coastal megacities like Jakarta in Indonesia may suffer a great deal from just 20-40cm of sea level rise.