Climatic Change

, Volume 137, Issue 3–4, pp 333–345 | Cite as

Global sea-level rise: weighing country responsibility and risk

  • R. Dean HardyEmail author
  • Bryan L. Nuse


Accelerated sea-level rise will be one of the most significant effects of global warming. Global mean sea level has risen more than 0.2 m since 1880 and continues rising at above 4 mm yr.−1. Here we allocate responsibility to countries for global sea-level rise commitment (SLRC) over the period 1850 to 2100 and weigh that against their exposure to inundation from sea-level rise. We bridge two lines of climate-related research by combining assessment of countries’ greenhouse gas emissions with predictions of the multi-millennial sea level response to global warming. Under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s business-as-usual scenario our findings show that the five most responsible countries for global SLRC are also the most exposed to absolute land loss. This is mostly due to their own emissions, which we call intrinsic risk. We also assess extrinsic risk, defined as a country’s land exposed to inundation due to all other countries’ emissions. We show that for 6 m of global SLRC, the two non-island countries with the highest extrinsic risk are predicted to lose 27 % and 15 % of their own land, yet contributed less than 1.1 % each to the emissions driving SLRC. We anticipate that our findings will directly inform policy discussions in international climate negotiations by identifying the relative degree of country responsibility and risk associated with sea-level rise.


Representative Concentration Pathway Country Group Glacial Isostatic Adjustment Small Island Develop States Intrinsic Risk 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This material is based upon country-level GHG emissions research conducted by Ward and Mahowald (2014). We thank Dr. Ward for sharing the emissions data for countries and for feedback on an earlier version of the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10584_2016_1703_Fig6_ESM.gif (56 kb)
Online Resource 1

Country group per capita rate box plots for each one-meter increment of global SLRC for RCP 8.5 and RCP 4.5. IS# indicates the SLRC inundation stage in meters. Note that IS1 for both scenarios is the same, as the data are based on historical emissions until 1995. See the text for details of how per capita rates were calculated (GIF 56 kb)

10584_2016_1703_MOESM1_ESM.tif (405 kb)
High Resolution Image (TIFF 405 KB)
10584_2016_1703_MOESM2_ESM.htm (1.3 mb)
Online Resource 2 Country contributions (meters, percent, and per capita) and land exposure (km2, country percentage, and global percentage) for each one-meter increment of global SLRC under scenario RCP 8.5. Intrinsic and extrinsic risk indices for 6 m of global SLRC are also included (HTM 1299 kb)
10584_2016_1703_MOESM3_ESM.htm (574 kb)
Online Resource 3 Country contributions (meters, percent, and per capita) and land exposure for each one-meter increment of global SLRC under scenario RCP 4.5. Exposure assessments for 1 to 3 m of SLRC would be the same as in Online Resource 2. Intrinsic and extrinsic risk indices for 3 m of global SLRC are also included (HTM 573 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Geospatial Research, Department of GeographyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  2. 2.Georgia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural ResourcesUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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