Inequitable patterns of US flood risk in the Anthropocene

Climate change 31.01.2022

Climate change will have major impact on cost of flooding, according to pioneering research led by Dr Oliver Wing, Chief Research Officer at Fathom

Climate change could result in the financial toll of flooding rising by more than a quarter in the United States by 2050 – and disadvantaged communities will bear the biggest brunt, according to new research.

Using data from Fathom’s flood models and by analysing nation-wide property asset data and detailed flood projections, this research forecasts an increase in average annual flood losses by 26.4% from US$32 billion currently to US$40.6 billion in less than 30 years.

Key headlines from this paper include:

  • 26% increase in flood damages in 30yrs due to climate change alone. *this is not adjusted for inflation
  • This is a problem that can only be solved by adaptation, not mitigation.
  • Changes in where & how an increasing number of people will be living by 2050 dwarf the impact of climate change.
  • The majority of climate change flood risk is historical flood risk. Our failure to drive that down means we’re already on borrowed time to adapt to the increases.
  • Poorer, whiter communities shoulder the burden of present-day flood risk.
  • African-American communities will bear the brunt of climate change-driven risk increases.

“Typical risk models rely on historical data which doesn’t capture projected climate change or offer sufficient detail. Fathom’s sophisticated techniques using state-of-the-science flood models give a much more accurate picture of future flooding and how populations will be affected.

“The mapping clearly indicates Black communities will be disproportionately affected in a warming world, in addition to the poorer White communities which predominantly bear the historical risk. Both of these findings are of significant concern. The research is a call to action for adaptation and mitigation work to be stepped up to reduce the devastating financial impact flooding wreaks on people’s lives.

In response to the publication of this research, Dr Oliver Wing has featured in a number of articles from The Conversation, CNN, Phys Org, ABC News and the Washington Post.