As global leaders and delegates gather in Dubai for the annual UN climate summit, a new analysis shows how the host cities of previous summits could be inundated — if not entirely submerged — by rising ocean waters.
The relentless rise of planet-warming pollution has already resulted in severe droughts, deadly floods and rapid melting of glaciers and ice around the world. And scientists say the steady climb of global sea level will continue for many decades as temperatures crank higher.
The analysis from Climate Central, a nonprofit climate research group, illustrates the risk if countries fail to halt the planet’s precipitous warming trend. A recent UN report showed the world is currently on track to warm up to 2.9 degrees.
Using peer-reviewed sea level rise projections and local elevation from Climate Central’s models, the findings show compelling visuals that paint a stark contrast between the world as we know it and our high-tide future, if the planet warms to 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
“Decisions made at COP28 will shape the long-term future of Earth’s coast cities, including Dubai,” said Benjamin Strauss, chief scientist and CEO of Climate Central.
Climate scientists have reported the world is around 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels, and it’s on track to breach 1.5 degrees of warming in the coming years — a critical threshold beyond which scientists say humans and ecosystems will struggle to adapt.
In 2015, at COP21 in Paris, more than 190 countries approved the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, but preferably to 1.5 degrees.
The world’s current trajectory of up to 2.9 degrees could be unlivable for coastal communities, low-lying countries and small island states around the world.
“The survival of these places and their heritage will depend on whether the government and industry leaders can agree to cut carbon pollution sharply enough and fast enough to limit global warming to 1.5 Celsius degrees,” Strauss said.
2023 is already set to be the hottest year on record, according to a report released Thursday by the World Meteorological Organization. Each month from June through October set new global monthly temperatures records by wide margins, while ocean temperatures also hit record highs.
These blistering global temperatures are causing glaciers and ice sheets to melt at alarming rates, which adds a significant amount of water to Earth’s oceans. Even Antarctica, the most isolated continent on the planet, is seeing unprecedented melting events. The melting of some large glaciers is now potentially unavoidable and could pose devastating implications for sea level rise globally.
Roughly 385 million people currently live in areas that will be eventually inundated by ocean water at high tide, even if planet-warming pollution is drastically reduced, according to Climate Central.
If we limit warming to 1.5 degrees, sea level rise would still affect land inhabited by 510 million people today. But if the planet breaches 3 degrees, the high-tide line could encroach above land where more than 800 million people live, a recent study found.
But while these scenarios could be centuries away, scientists say with every fraction of a degree of warming, the consequences of climate change worsen.
At COP28, global leaders will discuss how to ramp down planet-warming fossil fuels to prevent the increasing likelihood of an underwater future. This year’s climate talks will also be the first time countries will be negotiating with a new scorecard showing how seriously off-track they are on their climate targets — and how the window to slash climate pollution is “rapidly narrowing.”