Rio de Janeiro Faces Perfect Storm of Climate Change

By Robert Muggah and Julia Sekula

Published in Foreign Policy

All coastal cities are vulnerable to climate change. For thousands of years, coastal living was preferred, owing to the abundance of food supplies, ease of transportation, and potential for defending against adversaries. Today, at least 10 percent of the world’s population lives in a low-lying coastal areas. But what was once an asset is increasingly a liability. The rapid expansion of coastal cities has eroded natural barriers, destroyed resources, and degraded water quality. As a result, swelling coastal communities are exposing ever-greater numbers of people to hurricanes, storms, floods, landslides, and sea level rise.

Some coastal cities are more at risk from sea level rise and other climate-related threats than others. Within the next few decades, over 570 low-lying coastal cities could face at least 0.5 meters, over 1.6 feet, of sea level rise. If this scenario comes true, it could put over 800 million people at risk and exact some $1 trillion in total economic cost. While Asian and African cities are especially exposed, one of the most vulnerable cities in Latin America is Rio de Janeiro. Climate scientists and the city’s own planners believe the city’s built environment is at risk of sea level rise, flooding, increased precipitation, and heat islands making large parts of it virtually uninhabitable.

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