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Sea level rise forecasts: risks and prevention measures for businesses

One of the most important effects of Climate Change due to global warming is the change in the mean global sea level, caused primarily by two sources. First, land ice sheets and glaciers are melting, filling the oceans with water. Second, as the water warms, the volume of the oceans increases.

Greece has a coastline of 13,676 km, and a large percentage of all Greeks live within 2 km of the coast. In addition, many professions are located in coastal areas. For example, shipping companies, industry, hotels, and other tourist facilities. These facts alone give an idea of the disastrous consequences that a rise in average sea level can have on the country's economy and the safety of its citizens.

Rising average sea levels in the Mediterranean may have disastrous consequences for the economy and the safety of residents in Greece.

In terms of risks, the constant rise in average sea level increases the possibility of flooding in coastal areas and can lead to greater erosion of the coastline and the intrusion of a significant amount of saltwater into freshwater aquifers, contaminating them. The negative consequences are many and include damage to public infrastructure, industrial facilities, and homes, destruction of the natural environment, and loss of life.

All of this, of course, can also have a negative impact on the functioning of businesses and the state apparatus in general. For many companies, for example, there is a financial risk due to disruptions in their supply chain affected by severe flooding. In addition, there is a high risk that the number of business customers will decline due to the risk of erosion and flooding in the area from rising and higher tides.

According to the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), Mediterranean Sea levels could rise 90 cm above 2000 levels by 2100, with local variations of up to 10 cm.

Let us look at how the change in average sea level in Greece will evolve. Note that scientists cannot always tell whether the changes they observe in ocean variables (sea level, temperature, pH) are due to changes caused by human-induced climate change or natural climate variability. Interpreting a change in a system as complex as the ocean requires many years of analysis and monitoring to ensure that the change is due to an externally caused factor and not to variations that occur in the ocean in a particular time period or pattern. For this reason, the analysis below addresses future climate simulations beginning in 2040, when it is more certain for scientists to say that the changes are due to climate change.

Figure 1. Change in mean sea level, in meters, in Greece. The period 2041-2070 was generated according to the RCP 8.5 scenario. Source of primary information from Copernicus-Water level change indicators for the European coast from 1977 to 2100 derived from climate projections.

Source: Yan, K., Muis, S., Irazoqui, M., Verlaan, M., (2020): Water level change indicators for the European coast from 1977 to 2100 derived from climate projections. Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) Climate Data Store (CDS). (Accessed on 13-03-2023), 10.24381/cds.b6473cc1.

Data processing and analysis by E-ON INTEGRATION, 2023.

Given current societal and technological developments and our past performance in mitigating climate change, global carbon emissions today follow RCP 8.5 (poor scenario). This is a high emissions scenario that assumes moderate technological change, relatively modest income growth, and high population growth. Therefore, the future projection of the mean sea level for the medium-term future (2041-2070) is analyzed and presented here based on the RCP 8.5 scenario.

The above map shows the change in mean sea level in Greece for the period 2041 to 2070, compared to the historical period 1977-2005. Looking at the map, we see that there will be an increase in mean sea level throughout the Greek sea. The change shows an increasing trend from north to south. The greatest change appears to be in the South Aegean and the Cretan Sea, where a 31 cm rise is predicted over a period of 29 years. Major ports on Crete and the Peloponnese are likely to face the greatest risk of negative impacts.

Businesses should have a plan to establish a strategy and put in place adaptation and mitigation actions to address the impacts of sea level rise.

How can businesses adapt to these changes?

It is important and now essential that businesses develop and act on a roadmap to adapt and mitigate the effects of rising sea levels. All businesses located near the coast should develop plans to strengthen and restore these private shorelines. In addition, it is important to consider climate risks in capital development plans that may affect the financial stability of the company.

The offshore wind energy sector, ports, offshore operations, and operators whose supply chains are affected by ocean conditions should consider the long-term impacts of sea level on their infrastructure. They should also refer to the worst-case scenario, i.e., RCP8.5, for the design, operation, and maintenance of their infrastructures to prepare accordingly.

Below are examples of measures to properly prevent and deal with changes in mean sea level and the possibility of flooding.

1. Construction of new protective infrastructure: the construction of flood protection walls and levees will protect properties and infrastructure from erosion, or at least reduce the negative impact of flooding. There are two key systems: Hard bank protection systems, which involve the massive construction of bulkheads, levees, and dikes. Soft shoreline systems, on the other hand, use environmentally friendly techniques such as planting, timber stumps, and beach extension.

2. Relocating infrastructure: a company could move processing and storage facilities to higher ground. This reduces the risk of flooding due to coastal erosion.

3. Development and study of climate risk models: there is a need to develop models for sea level rise under various RCP scenarios for the near and distant future, as well as for other indicators in the coastal environment that may affect land-based infrastructure. For example, models for wave height variation during storms. These models provide a glimpse into the future and how companies can prepare to minimize the negative impact of such events.

4. Infrastructure repair and rebuilding: companies need to improve and rebuild their infrastructure so that it is erosion resistant and does not flood. There are pumps that a company can invest in to remove water from the building more quickly and return it to the sea.

5. Innovative technologies: Installation of sensors/cameras at various locations in the coastal zone to monitor sea level. The use of such innovative technologies can reduce the risk of severe flooding by continuously monitoring sea levels and providing an early warning when a threshold is exceeded. The data obtained will be useful for future predictions of local conditions and the preparation of response plans.

6. Reducing carbon footprint: future climate conditions are not yet determined and may change. An organization can reduce greenhouse gases that impact mean sea level through the use of renewable energy, gas capture, and storage. As a result, the average sea level may rise at a lower rate than it would without such measures.

7. Plan for emergencies and climate insurance: For severe flooding, there should be an emergency plan and insurance for natural disasters such as flooding to reduce the economic impact of such a risk.

The above data show that companies need reliable tools to manage climate change, make decisions, and develop action plans. These tools, on the one hand, help to organize information in a structured, systematic, and collaborative way and, on the other hand, allow the execution of future scenarios for more effective management of problems (adaptation and mitigation).

In E- ON INTEGRATION we have the possibility to look at the evolution of different climate variables for all RCP scenarios and for different years, both in the past and in the future. From these results, we can gain information about the risks and opportunities associated with each client's business and incorporate them into the strategy for the company's future.


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