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A global framework for future costs and benefits of river-flood protection in urban areas


Floods cause billions of dollars of damage each year1, and flood risks are expected to increase due to socio-economic development, subsidence, and climate change2,3,4. Implementing additional flood risk management measures can limit losses, protecting people and livelihoods5. Whilst several models have been developed to assess global-scale river-flood risk2,4,6,7,8, methods for evaluating flood risk management investments globally are lacking9. Here, we present a framework for assessing costs and benefits of structural flood protection measures in urban areas around the world. We demonstrate its use under different assumptions of current and future climate change and socio-economic development. Under these assumptions, investments in dykes may be economically attractive for reducing risk in large parts of the world, but not everywhere. In some regions, economically efficient investments could reduce future flood risk below today’s levels, in spite of climate change and economic growth. We also demonstrate the sensitivity of the results to different assumptions and parameters. The framework can be used to identify regions where river-flood protection investments should be prioritized, or where other risk-reducing strategies should be emphasized.

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Figure 1: Percentage reduction in current expected annual damage for simulations carried out with assumed current protection standards compared to no flood protection.
Figure 2: Protection standards at sub-national level in 2080 that meet the ‘optimize’ objective.
Figure 3: B:C ratio at sub-national level, and percentage of models for which B:C ratio exceeds 1, for the EAD-constant and EAD/GDP-constant adaptation objections.
Figure 4: Protection standards at sub-national level in 2080 and associated B:C ratios.


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The research leading to these results received funding from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) in the form of a VIDI grant (grant no. 016.161.324) and the Aqueduct Global Flood Analyzer project, via subsidy 5000002722 from the Netherlands Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. The latter project is convened by the World Resources Institute. J.C.J.H.A. and W.J.W.B. received additional funding from the NWO in the form of VICI and VIDI Grants (grant no. 453.14.006 and 452.14.005). We thank O. Wing and M. Trigg for providing benchmarking inundation maps.

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All authors conceived and designed the experiments and contributed to discussions on, and writing of, the paper. P.J.W., B.J., P.S. and H.C.W. performed the experiments. P.J.W., A.D.L., P.S. and H.C.W. analysed the data. P.D.B. contributed to the benchmarking exercise.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Philip J. Ward.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Ward, P., Jongman, B., Aerts, J. et al. A global framework for future costs and benefits of river-flood protection in urban areas. Nature Clim Change 7, 642–646 (2017).

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