Measures are needed to protect coastal areas

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Recent studies confirm the irreversible rise in water levels and the threat would particularly weigh on coastal communities in North America. New solutions will be required to protect them.

The most recent study was unveiled on February 14 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which falls under the US Department of Commerce. The report, written with the collaboration of several other federal agencies, updates data published in 2017.

It is confirmed that by 2050 the sea level will rise as much as it did for the period 1920-2020. This 25 to 30 cm (10 to 12 inch) sea level rise would result in the permanent flooding of many coastal communities in the United States, according to NOAA.

In 2050, high tides likely to create overflows in inhabited areas could strike up to 10 times a year. Major floods, which currently have a 4% chance of occurring in any given year, could occur twice a decade.

In the past, only major storms caused significant flooding in coastal areas. In 2050, such claims will occur even during moderate storms or high tides, due to sea level.

In addition to the impact of these floods on communities, the report also notes the dangers caused to aquifers that provide drinking water, which will create an additional problem for the irrigation of agricultural land.

This 25 to 30 cm rise in sea level in the contiguous coastal zone (CONUS) is a national average for the United States, but has large regional variations.

Sea level could rise a little more in the Gulf of Mexico (10-15 cm more) and on the east coast (0-5 cm) compared to CONUS.

On the west coast bordering the Pacific, the sea level will also rise, but on average 10 to 15 cm less than CONUS. In the Hawaii and Caribbean Sea regions, the additional elevation would be 5-10 cm lower than the national average.

NOAA specifies that even if we succeed in limiting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and limiting average global warming to 2°C compared to the pre-industrial era, the impact on the level of sea ​​will remain the same. The observed warming has already reached 1°C.

If international GHG reduction targets are missed, as many experts predict, depending on the scenario, sea levels on US coasts could rise by 60 cm to 2 meters by 2100, compared to the level observed in 2000.

In Canada

On December 9, the Intact Center on Climate Adaptation (CIAC) of theUniversity of Waterloo released the “Rising Seas and Shifting Sands” guide which offered guidelines to protect shorelines in coastal communities in eastern and western Canada. The guide does not deal with the particular problems of coastal protection in the north of the country, where the issues are very different.

“We can no longer manage coastal risks by continuously fighting against natural phenomena”, explains the author of the guide and professor of geography, Joanna Eyquemwho is director general of the “resilient infrastructure” program at the CIAC.

Ms. Eyquem is one of the experts invited to the session on climate change which will take place in the afternoon of March 30, 2022, as part of the Damage Insurance Day.

The average climate in Canada is warming twice as fast as the global average, the report says. Nearly 4.8 million people, or 13.5% of the country’s population, live within 10 km of the coast, mainly in British Columbia and also in the Maritime provinces. In Quebec, along the 15,699 km long coastline, some 147,138 people reside in this zone of 10 km or less (3.1% of the province’s population).

If the high-carbon scenario materializes (RCP 8.5) by 2100, sea levels will rise by more than 50 cm in Quebec and eastern Newfoundland. The rise would be more than 75 cm in coastal areas of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, southern Nova Scotia and the upper Bay of Fundy.

On the west coast, the greatest projected increases by 2100 will occur along the Fraser River lowlands, on southern Vancouver Island and north of the coast.

Guidelines

The new guidelines proposed by the CIAC report, which are supported by the Standards Council of Canadathe National Research Council of Canada and Infrastructure Canadaare of two types:

  • traditional gray infrastructure: technical works such as protective walls, breakwaters, dykes and barriers;
  • nature-based solutions: measures that leverage or mimic natural systems to manage flood and erosion risks, such as restoring salt marshes and replenishing beaches and dunes.

It was clarified that the two approaches can and should be considered and used together.

The CIAC guide offers three strategies for deploying nature-based solutions. National standards must be created to, first, ensure the evaluation of the benefits of these solutions and, second, to monitor coastal protection measures. Third, collaboration with the private sector will be required to fund, deploy, monitor and preserve these assets. The insurance industry can contribute in this regard.

In the Netherlands and Mexico

This type of public-private partnership (PPP) has already enabled several coastal resilience projects. The CIAC report gives the example of the sand dike on the island of Texel, the Netherlands, where a standard indemnity insurance solution was used to erect the structure.

This island is located west of the Wadden Sea, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its beaches and nature reserves make it a popular tourist destination.

In 2006, several sections of the Prins Hendrik dyke needed to be reinforced. A dredging company proposed to place five million cubic meters of sand and plant two million short-liguled marram grass in front of the existing stone and concrete dike.

Swiss Re contributed to the sand dyke by insuring the project against all construction risks. The dredging company has taken out the policy which also protects the municipality, the water management organization, the engineers and the contractors.

In the state of Quintana Roo in Mexico, a parametric insurance product was used to protect a coral reef. Underwritten in 2017 with Swiss Re by the regional governments, the policy drawn up with The Nature Conservancy provides for compensation to be paid if a category 4 hurricane strikes the region where this reef, the longest in the western hemisphere, is located.

Funds are thus provided and will allow citizens trained for this purpose to quickly undertake restoration work and reduce damage to a minimum. As early as October 2020, the insurer paid out money after Hurricane Delta hit within eight days of the storm’s passage.

Elsewhere in the world

Sea level rise is causing problems elsewhere in the world. Thus, the parliament of Indonesia recently adopted the law which will allow the capital of the country to be moved, located in Jakarta in the island of Java, the most densely populated of the archipelago.

Jakarta, a metropolis of more than 30 million people, is slowly sinking, as its coastal area is often hit by major floods.

The seat of government will henceforth be established in the new town of Nusantara, in the island of Borneo, 2,000 km from Jakarta. Indonesia shares the island of Borneo with Malaysia and the Sultanate of Brunei.

The project was announced in 2019 and the work, which was to start in 2020, required an estimated investment of $33 billion for the construction of the new capital. This would have an area of ​​560 km2 in the middle of the tropical forest, according to the magazine Geo.

For its part, the dispatch from International mail published on January 19 pointed out that the transfer of government activities would begin in 2024 and would involve the relocation of 25,000 civil servants per year for four years.

According to the journalist Tristan Gaudiaut of the site Statistics, it would be the second time a state has had to relocate its capital due to environmental concerns. Belize, Central America moved its government to Belmopan in 1970 following a hurricane that devastated the capital, Belize City.

Belmopan is located 82 km southwest of the ancient capital and 31 km inland. Belize covers an area of ​​22,966 km2, slightly larger than the territory bounded by the administrative region of Bas-Saint-Laurent. This small state is bordered by Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras.

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