Cities face dramatic rise in heat, flood risks by 2050, researchers say

CAPE TOWN, June 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In just 30 years, cities around the world will face dramatically higher risks from extreme heat, coastal flooding, power blackouts and food and water shortages unless climate-changing emissions are curbed, urban researchers warned Tuesday.

Today, for instance, over 200 million people in 350 cities face stifling heat where average daily peak temperatures hit 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) for three months of the year, according to a study released by C40 Cities, a network of major world cities pushing climate action.

But by 2050, more than 1.6 billion people in 970 cities will face those conditions, researchers predicted.

The number of people who are both in poverty and battling brutal heat - usually without air conditioning - will rise tenfold, they said.

"This is a wake-up call," said Kevin Austin, deputy executive director of C40 Cities, at an international meeting in the South African city of Cape Town on adapting to climate change.

"The magnitude of people affected by heat will be (much) greater than today if we continue to increase greenhouse gases at this rate."

Take a look at 10 areas that will face the greatest risk:

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Areas threatened by rising sea level
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Areas threatened by rising sea level

10. North Carolina: 298,000 residents at risk

(Photo courtesy: Getty)

9. South Carolina: 374,000 residents at risk

(Photo courtesy: Getty)

8. Texas: 405,000 residents at risk

(Photo courtesy: Getty)

7. Massachusetts: 428,000 residents at risk

(Photo courtesy: Getty)

6. Virginia: 476,000 residents at risk

(Photo courtesy: Getty)

5. New Jersey: 827,000 residents at risk

(Photo courtesy: Getty)

4. New York: 901,000 residents at risk

(Photo courtesy: Getty)

3. California: 1 million residents at risk

(Photo courtesy: Getty)

2. Louisiana: 1.29 million residents at risk

(Photo courtesy: Getty)

1. Florida: 6.06 million residents at risk

(Photo courtesy: Getty)

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But cities can take action to directly curb the risks, besides working to cut emissions, he said.

In Seoul, for example, a major elevated thoroughfare through the center of the city has been removed, opening up access to the river and lowering urban heat in the area by at least half a degree Celsius, he said.

South Korea's capital also has planted more than 16 million trees and created shaded cooling centers for those without air conditioning.

"We want to encourage cities to adopt more of these solutions and implement them as quickly as possible. In the worst case scenario, they will need to do them quickly," Austin said.

MORE DROUGHT, LESS WATER

The research, carried out by the New York-based Urban Climate Change Research Network, looked at data from more than 2,500 cities and predicted likely conditions if emissions continue to rise at their current rate.

It found that Cape Town's ongoing battle with drought-driven water shortages could become far more common, with over 650 million people in 500 cities - among them Sao Paulo and Tehran - likely to see their access to water reduced by 2050.

Many thirsty cities are already aiming to set caps on water use per person, with Los Angeles pushing for 200 liters a day, Melbourne for 155 liters and Cape Town a dramatically reduced 50, Austin said.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that an average American today uses at least 300 liters of water per day.

Sharing advice on how to make cuts happen - including insights gained in Cape Town, which has slashed its water use by half in the face of extreme drought - can save cities time and help them make changes faster, Austin said.

But more cities "need to transition in a planned way, not in response to disaster," he added.

Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille said dealing with a crisis when it arrives leaves little room to maneuver.

"In a crisis like this there is no time to go by trial and error. You unfortunately have to get it right the first time," she said at the Adaptation Futures conference in Cape Town.

POWER RISK FROM FLOODS

The C40 Cities study also found that by mid-century over 800 million people will live in 570 coastal cities at risk of flooding from weather extremes and sea level rise.

Flooding presents a particular risk to urban power supplies, with many power stations located in flood-prone areas - and everything from transportation to heating and hospitals at risk if power plants flood in cities from London to Rio de Janeiro, the study noted.

Decentralizing power systems - including by getting clean energy from a larger number of smaller power plants - could help cut the risks, researchers said.

But flooding risks may be coming faster than expected. Patrick Child, the European Commission's deputy director-general for research and innovation, said a predicted one meter (3-foot) rise in global sea level, once anticipated by 2100, is now expected by 2070.

Last year already saw the highest-ever documented economic losses from severe weather and climate change globally, he said.

Experts at the adaptation meeting also predicted that extreme weather could bring cascading problems for cities, with flooding, for instance, triggering everything from disease outbreaks to road failures, food shortages and closed schools.

Looking at just one type of problem - such as a health threats from extreme heat, or sea level rise - isn't enough to capture the risks, said Cynthia Rosenzweig, a climatologist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the authors of the report.

"In cities, all of these impacts interact with each other, and are all happening at the same time," she said.

Solutions also need combined approaches, with engineering efforts to cut flooding, for instance, working hand in hand with things like better protection of flood-absorbing wetlands, Rosenzweig said.

She said she hoped the research would help city officials prioritize what changes need to happen first to better protect their citizens from climate threats.

In cities "it's often overwhelming, with so many things to do," she said.

(Reporting by Laurie Goering, editing by Zoe Tabary)

RELATED: Sinking shoreline threatens coastal communities in Indonesia: 

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Sinking shoreline threatens coastal communities in Indonesia
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Sinking shoreline threatens coastal communities in Indonesia

Children lie in water as sea water rises during high tide at Kali Adem port in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 3, 2018.

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A wooden boat lies stranded on a concrete sea wall at Muara Baru fishing port in Jakarta, Indonesia, December 5, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

Youth play on a wall surrounded by rising water during high tide at Muara Baru port in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 3, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A man walks inside his house as it floods with sea water during high tide in Sriwulan village in Demak, Indonesia, January 30, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A man walks past a dead fish as sea water rises during high tide at Kali Adem port in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 3, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

Youth play near a mosque by the sea wall in Muara Baru port in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 3, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A woman watches TV as seawater hits her house during high tide in Sriwulan village in Demak, Indonesia, January 31, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A car is seen stranded at a car park area as rising sea water hits Muara Baru fishing port during high tide in Jakarta, Indonesia, December 6, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

Students walk in the yard of the Pantai Bahagia Elementary School, inundated with sea water after the tide came in, in Bekasi, West Java province, Indonesia, February 1, 2018.

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

A man stands in front of his house during high tides in Sriwulan village in Demak, Indonesia, January 30, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

Sriwarsih, a student, reads a book in her bed as rising sea water hits her house in Bedono village in Demak, Indonesia, February 1, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A man rows a makeshift boat to reach his house isolated by sea water at Pantai Mekar village in Bekasi, West Java province, Indonesia, January 22, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A school is surrounded by sea water in Bedono village in Demak, Indonesia, January 31, 2018.

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A sofa stands in an abandoned house after sea water hit Sriwulan village in Demak, Indonesia, February 2, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A girl sits next to a boat as sea water overflows on top of a concrete sea wall at the Muara Baru fishing port in Jakarta, Indonesia, December 6, 2017.

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

Children play next to a concrete sea wall near Muara Baru fish market in Jakarta, Indonesia, March 2, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A man prays on top of his brother's grave which is inundated by sea water in Tambak Lorok village of Semarang, Indonesia, February 1, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

Sandbags lie atop a concrete sea wall to prevent an overflowing of sea water at Muara Baru fishing port in Jakarta, Indonesia, December 6, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A man drives a motorcycle through sea water as high tide hits Muara Baru fishing port in Jakarta, Indonesia, December 5, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A worker floats her motorcycle on styrofoam to avoid sea water during high tide at the Muara Baru fishing port in Jakarta, Indonesia, December 6, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A child sits in a hammock as his mother cleans mussels at Cilincing district of Jakarta, Indonesia, August 22, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A boat passenger holds her baby as she walks through rising sea water during high tide at Kali Adem port in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 3, 2018.

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

Passengers of a boat walk through rising sea water during high tide at Kali Adem port in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 4, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A street vendor pushes a food cart as sea water rises during high tide at the pier of Kali Adem port in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 3, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

Students gather in a classroom in Pantai Bahagia village in Bekasi, West Java province, Indonesia, January 22, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

An electric pole is seen in the middle of land that has been surrounded by sea water at Pantai Mekar village in Bekasi, West Java province, Indonesia, January 22, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A girl uses her smartphone as high tide floods her house at Sriwulan village in Demak, Indonesia, January 30, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

Houses surrounded by sea water stand near mangroves forest in Pantai Mekar village in Bekasi, West Java province, Indonesia, January 22, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A cat walks outside a house in Pantai Bahagia village in Bekasi, West Java province, Indonesia, January 22, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

Sainah sits in the kitchen area of her home, flooded by sea water, near Pantai Bahagia in Bekasi, West Java province, Indonesia, February 1, 2018.

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

Students walk in the yard of the Pantai Bahagia Elementary School, before tide comes in, in Bekasi, West Java province, Indonesia, February 1, 2018.

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

Fishermen repair their wooden boat as children play soccer near a new construction of a concrete sea wall in Cilincing district of Jakarta, Indonesia, August 22, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

A combination picture shows students walking in the flooded yard of the Pantai Bahagia Elementary School before tide comes in (top), and students walking in the yard of the school, inundated with sea water after the tide came in, in Bekasi, West Java province, Indonesia, February 1, 2018.

(REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)

Youth play as sea water rises during high tide at Kali Adem port in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 4, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Beawiharta) 

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