Powerful storms, rising sea levels and flooding are just some of the hazards threatening people and habitats in coastal communities. These risks are increasing as climate change and development are impacting our world’s coasts.
The loss of coastal habitats, such as marshes, mangroves, corals, and oyster reefs, only worsens the situation, as these habitats provide natural protection from storms and flooding by absorbing excess water and dissipating wave energy. Engineered or built infrastructure – seawalls and dikes, as examples – have traditionally been used to protect coasts, while the nature-based solutions found in coastal habitats have been often overlooked. In fact, using built infrastructure solutions to protect coasts often further weakens these habitats, making the problem even worse.
To help understand the economics of nature-based coastal defenses, the Conservancy has partnered with Swiss Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurance companies. Leveraging the Conservancy’s science on nature-based defenses and Swiss Re’s expertise in risk modeling, our work aims to help improve decisions about coastal development and to reduce risk to vulnerable communities and economies.
Here are some highlights of our collaboration with Swiss Re:
- Developing integrated models to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of coastal ecosystems in risk reduction and climate adaptation: This work compares the costs and coastal protection benefits of nature-based defenses with those of traditional infrastructure in different geographies. For example, the cost-benefit analyses that we have done across the Gulf of Mexico show that nature-based defenses alone could help avert more than $50 billion in damages from storms over a 20-year period. The economic models also show that oyster reef and marsh restoration are some of the most cost-effective solutions for risk reduction in that region.
- Supporting Decisions: We have made the spatially explicit results of these economic models for the Gulf of Mexico available on-line in an interactive decision support app on Coastal Resilience.
- Designing new finance mechanisms to support greater investment in nature: Building on our research of nature-based coastal defenses, we are exploring the development of innovative disaster risk financing mechanisms that will support long-term protection and restoration of critical nature-based defenses. We hope that this will help communities to understand and value nature, and will create new sources of funding for investment into these important ecosystems.
Our work has demonstrated that nature-based coastal defenses can be cost-effective relative to built infrastructure. The Conservancy hopes that this will redirect a significant portion of the global coastal infrastructure investment into nature-based coastal protection and restoration. In turn, this will protect vulnerable coastal communities and economies from the impacts of storms and sea level rise.
To learn more about our work with Swiss Re, please see our fact sheet on the Economics of Coastal Adaptation app that we co-developed.