This week, University of Florida scientists discovered the sea level along the southeastern U.S. coast has risen far more quickly than the long-term rate globally, underscoring new concerns about the effects of climate change.
Increasingly, the phenomenon of rising sea levels has amplified fears over climate refugees — individuals forced to leave their homes due to changing environmental conditions in their respective homelands. Climate watchers estimate that at least 26 million people around the world have already been displaced, and that figure could balloon to 150 million by 2050, according to the Worldwatch Institute.
Relocating those populations costs vast sums of money, raising the question of who will cover those costs as sea levels continue their uptrend. The rise in global sea levels has accelerated since the 1990s amid rising temperatures, with a thaw of Greenland's ice sheet pouring ever more water into the oceans, a team of international scientists reported last month.
In the U.S., the cost of climate change is expected to be steep. A Science study estimates that every one degree Celsius increase in global mean temperature will cost the U.S. 1.2 percent of its economic growth. Separately, a recent assessment by Lloyds estimated that flooding ranked high among the top five risks to global economic growth, and could cost upwards of $430 billion.
Mark Witte, a professor of public finance at Northwestern University, said climate relocation demonstrates a classic economic problem when it comes to addressing slow moving, long-term challenges.
"We're waiting for the tipping point," Witte told CNBC recently. "We're going to wait too long, and it'll be a more expensive fix in the long term than if we just did something now."