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Home » Op-Ed: How to save beaches and coastlines from climate change disasters

Op-Ed: How to save beaches and coastlines from climate change disasters

Op-Ed: How to save beaches and coastlines from climate change disasters

The frequency of natural disasters has soared in recent decades. Total damage topped $210 billion worldwide in 2020. With climate change, the costs attributed to coastal storms will increase dramatically.

At the same time, coastal habitats such as wetlands and reefs are being lost rapidly. Some 20% of the world’s mangroves were lost over the last four decades. More than half of the Great Barrier Reef was degraded by bleaching in 2020 alone. In California, we have lost more than 90% of our coastal marshes.

Coastal habitats serve as a critical first line of defense, and their loss puts communities at even greater risk from coastal flooding. Coral reefs work as natural breakwaters and reduce flooding by breaking waves offshore. Wetlands such as marshes and mangroves protect coastlines by dampening storm surge and waves; they also prevent erosion and can build new land.

On Jan. 27, President Biden committed to protect 30% of U.S. land and coastal seas by 2030 as part of the U.S. climate strategy. These 30-by-30 targets are already being adopted by many nations ahead of the upcoming United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity meeting.

Less certain is how we can pay for this when national budgets are stretched. The answer is to use nature to help us. We spend hundreds of billions every year on disaster management and post-disaster recovery, and less than 3% of this on natural defenses, which could reduce the damage of these disasters.

Mangrove restoration has proved successful in defending coastal areas. Hundreds of thousands of acres have been replanted across the tropics, mainly in Southeast Asia.

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