Here’s What the World’s Cities Would Look Like After Catastrophic Sea-Level Rise

New research finds that half a billion people would be left homeless if greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed.
Potential scenario of sea-level rise in Rio de Janeiro. (Photo: Courtesy Climate Central)
Nov 9, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

The United Kingdom’s meteorological office announced Monday that the global average temperature this year is set to rise 1.02 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial average.

If temperatures for October through December play out as predicted, 2015 will be the first year to breach the 1-degree mark, meaning world temperatures are approaching the halfway point to a 2-degree Celsius rise. That’s the threshold scientists say the world surface temperature must remain below to avoid the catastrophic impacts of global warming.

The news adds urgency to the negotiations on a global climate change treaty set to begin on Nov. 30. Meanwhile, Climate Central, a nonprofit research organization, has issued a report showing that as many as 500 million people could be at risk of losing their homes from sea-level rise. Even if the world drastically cuts carbon emissions, land that’s home to as many as 130 million people could still be submerged.

Climate Central’s data is based on peer-reviewed research published in October in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and illustrates the long-term effects carbon emissions can have on locking in sea-level rise over hundreds of years.

RELATED: 10 Images Show What Coastal Cities Will Look Like After Sea Levels Rise

“The global stakes of climate change are crystal clear with sea-level rise,” said Benjamin Strauss, a Climate Central scientist and the lead author of the report. “The outcome at Paris can point us toward losing countless great coastal cities and monuments around the world, unending migration, and destabilization—or toward preserving much more of our global heritage and a more stable future.”

The report finds that China—the world’s leading carbon emitter—has the most to lose, with 145 million people living on land threatened by rising seas if emission levels are not reduced. China also has the most to gain from containing warming to 2 degrees Celsius, which would limit the impact to 64 million people.

Another 12 nations were found to have more than 10 million people imperiled from rising seas, led by India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Indonesia. The United States is the most threatened nation outside Asia, with roughly 25 million people at risk.

The study’s authors have compiled images of some of the world’s major cities to demonstrate how differing levels of global warming would look. One side shows projections of what sea-level rise could look like post-2100 if nations keep emitting carbon pollution at today’s levels. The other side depicts how the same region would appear if carbon-reduction measures are used, keeping temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius.