Understanding global future river flood risk is a prerequisite for the quantification of climate change impacts and planning effective adaptation strategies1. Existing global flood risk projections fail to integrate the combined dynamics of expected socio-economic development and climate change. We present the first global future river flood risk projections that separate the impacts of climate change and socio-economic development. The projections are based on an ensemble of climate model outputs2, socio-economic scenarios3, and a state-of-the-art hydrologic river flood model combined with socio-economic impact models4,5. Globally, absolute damage may increase by up to a factor of 20 by the end of the century without action. Countries in Southeast Asia face a severe increase in flood risk. Although climate change contributes significantly to the increase in risk in Southeast Asia6, we show that it is dwarfed by the effect of socio-economic growth, even after normalization for gross domestic product (GDP) growth. African countries face a strong increase in risk mainly due to socio-economic change. However, when normalized to GDP, climate change becomes by far the strongest driver. Both high- and low-income countries may benefit greatly from investing in adaptation measures, for which our analysis provides a basis.

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We are grateful for the co-funding from the EC FP7 funded project BASE (grant agreement number 308337). The research was also funded by a VENI grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), awarded to P.J.W. (grant no. 863.11.011). Finally, the research was funded as part of the Aqueduct Global Flood Analyzer project, via grant 5000002722 from the Netherlands Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. The project is convened by the World Resources Institute. Furthermore, we are grateful to the ISIMIP project team for making available the ISIMIP forcing data set. Finally, the authors wish to thank the Environment Agency of England and Wales and the Saxony State Office for Environment, Agriculture and Geology for the provision of the regional flood hazard maps, used for model benchmarking.

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  1. Deltares, 2629 HV Delft, The Netherlands

    • Hessel C. Winsemius
    • , Marc F. P. Bierkens
    •  & Jaap C. J. Kwadijk
  2. Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM), Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    • Jeroen C. J. H. Aerts
    • , Brenden Jongman
    •  & Philip J. Ward
  3. Amsterdam Global Change Institute (AGCI), Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    • Jeroen C. J. H. Aerts
    • , Brenden Jongman
    •  & Philip J. Ward
  4. Department of Physical Geography, Utrecht University, 3508 TC Utrecht, The Netherlands

    • Ludovicus P. H. van Beek
    •  & Marc F. P. Bierkens
  5. PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, 3721 MA Bilthoven, The Netherlands

    • Arno Bouwman
    • , Willem Ligtvoet
    • , Paul L. Lucas
    •  & Detlef P. van Vuuren
  6. Twente Water Centre, University of Twente, 7500 AE Enschede, The Netherlands

    • Jaap C. J. Kwadijk
  7. Copernicus Institute for Sustainable Development, Utrecht University, 3508 TC Utrecht, The Netherlands

    • Detlef P. van Vuuren


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H.C.W. was responsible for computation of the flood hazard maps for all projections. H.C.W., M.F.P.B., L.P.H.B., B.J., P.J.W., A.B. and W.L. have established the global flood risk modelling framework used to perform the flood risk computations performed in the scope of this paper. A.B., J.C.J.H.A., W.L. and P.L.L. have derived the future exposure maps (population and GDP), B.J. and P.J.W. computed socio-economic risk. H.C.W. produced all graphs. All authors have contributed to the conceptualization and writing of the manuscript text.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Hessel C. Winsemius.

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