Rising Seas To Cost NC $35B In Just 20 Years, New Study Finds

Jul 5, 2019

A beach public access entrance at Wrightsville Beach
Credit Jason deBruyn / WUNC

A new study from an environmental advocacy group estimates North Carolina will face $35 billion in costs by 2040 to protect its coastal communities from rising seas.

North Carolina ranks third in the nation, behind only Florida and Louisiana, in projected costs, according to the study published by the Center for Climate Integrity. Combined, states would have to build some 50,000 miles of coastal barriers, a cost of more than $400 billion, according to the study's estimates.

Projected costs to build sea walls by state.
Credit Center for Climate Integrity

"Our collective failure to come to grips with the massive costs of climate adaptation is the latest, and most delusional form of climate denial," Center for Climate Integrity Executive Director Richard Wiles said in a statement.

Because so much of its geography covers shoreline, North Carolina's 3rd Congressional District ranks as the district with the highest projected costs in the nation. The projected costs along that district are estimated at $28 billion, or some 80 percent of the estimated costs for the state. To put that figure in perspective, it's less than the entire state budget for a full year.

Estimated costs of sea level rise by North Carolina community.
Credit Center for Climate Integrity

Because affected communities almost certainly can't afford these costs, Wiles has advocated that industry foot the bill.

"The companies that made and promoted the products that they knew would irrevocably and radically alter the global climate, and then denied it, must pay their fair share to help communities adapt to it," said Wiles. "Failing to hold polluters to this basic responsibility would be to knowingly bankrupt hundreds of communities, standing idly by as they are slowly and inexorably swallowed up by the sea."