Kolkata, India: More than $8 billion of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy along the US northeast coast in 2012 can be attributed only to man-made climate change, according to research released Tuesday.
According to researchers who published their findings in the journal Nature Communications, sea-level rise induced by global warming resulted in an additional 36,000 dwellings being flooded.
The findings are the first to calculate the economic value of the damage caused by the superstorm due only to climate change, according to the scientists, who also stated that the methodologies used can be applied to other cyclones and storm surges.
“If we were to calculate the costs of climate change across all flooding events, that figure would be enormous,” said co-author Philip Orton, an associate professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey.
Sandy cost the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut roughly $63 billion (51.5 billion euros) in damages. It raged for over a week, killing dozens in the Caribbean and almost 150 in the United States.
“Climate change is already hurting us far more than most of us understand,” lead author Ben Strauss, CEO and chief scientist of Climate Central, told AFP.
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“We just don’t usually do the accounting.”
Thousands of people in Hurricane Sandy’s path experienced costly and often financially debilitating damage to their houses as a result of global warming.
“They may not realize it, but they were victims of climate change, full stop,” Strauss said.
According to the report, every cm of sea-level rise would have resulted in an additional billion dollars in damage.
‘Estimation at the low end’
In the decade since Sandy, ocean levels have risen more than 3 cm (1.2 inches), implying that a similar storm today, assuming no changes in protection systems, would cost more than $11 billion to fix.
According to Strauss, the estimate is modest because it only looked at the effects of climate change on sea-level rise, not the storm itself.
According to previous studies, rising temperatures have resulted in larger hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones that store more water, create higher wind speeds, and linger longer over land.
“It’s fair to think of our numbers as low-end estimates that consider only part of warming’s effect — and possibly the smaller part,” Strauss said.
The findings of the study were based on a model that evaluated the influence of various sea levels on flooding during the storm.
To ensure that they were solely estimating the impact of man-made climate change, the researchers took out the effects of natural land subsidence and the portion of sea-level rise caused by natural processes.
When considered on a global scale, the costs of rising sea levels might likely reach hundreds of billions of dollars or more in the coming decades.
Strauss’ previous research revealed that by 2050, 300 million people’s land might be exposed to annual coastal floods, while 150 million people’s land might be below high tides.
Regardless of how quickly mankind reduces carbon emissions, these figures are basically the same.
“But they diverge significantly at the end of this century,” Strauss said.
In comparison to a scenario in which emissions continue unabated, sharp reductions in carbon pollution over the following decades might result in 50 million fewer people being exposed to coastal flooding in 2100, he said.