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Journal Article

Global warming and population change both heighten future risk of human displacement due to river floods


Kam,  Pui Man
External Organizations;

Aznar-Siguan,  Gabriela
External Organizations;


Schewe,  Jacob
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

Milano,  Leonardo
External Organizations;

Ginnetti,  Justin
External Organizations;


Willner,  Sven
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

McCaughey,  Jamie W
External Organizations;

Bresch,  David N
External Organizations;

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Kam, P. M., Aznar-Siguan, G., Schewe, J., Milano, L., Ginnetti, J., Willner, S., McCaughey, J. W., Bresch, D. N. (2021): Global warming and population change both heighten future risk of human displacement due to river floods. - Environmental Research Letters, 16, 4, 044026.

Cite as: https://publications.pik-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_25452
Every year, millions of people around the world are being displaced from their homes due to climate-related disasters. River flooding is responsible for a large part of this displacement. Previous studies have shown that river flood risk is expected to change as a result of global warming and its effects on the hydrological cycle. At the same time, future scenarios of socio-economic development imply substantial population increases in many of the areas that presently experience disaster-induced displacement. Here we show that both global warming and population change are projected to lead to substantial increases in flood-induced displacement risk over the coming decades. We use a global climate-hydrology-inundation modelling chain, including multiple alternative climate and hydrological models, to quantify the effect of global warming on displacement risk assuming either current or projected future population distributions. Keeping population fixed at present levels, we find roughly a 50% increase in global displacement risk for every degree of global warming. Adding projected population changes further exacerbates these increases globally and in most world regions, with the relative global flood displacement risk is increasing by roughly 350% at the end of the 21st century, compared to an increase of 150% without the contribution of population change. While the resolution of the global models is limited, the effect of global warming is robust across greenhouse gas concentration scenarios, climate models and hydrological models. These findings indicate a need for rapid action on both climate mitigation and adaptation agendas in order to reduce future risks to vulnerable populations.