River floods are among some of the costliest natural disasters1, but their socio-economic impacts under contrasting warming levels remain little explored2. Here, using a multi-model framework, we estimate human losses, direct economic damage and subsequent indirect impacts (welfare losses) under a range of temperature (1.5 °C, 2 °C and 3 °C warming)3 and socio-economic scenarios, assuming current vulnerability levels and in the absence of future adaptation. With temperature increases of 1.5 °C, depending on the socio-economic scenario, it is found that human losses from flooding could rise by 70–83%, direct flood damage by 160–240%, with a relative welfare reduction between 0.23 and 0.29%. In a 2 °C world, by contrast, the death toll is 50% higher, direct economic damage doubles and welfare losses grow to 0.4%. Impacts are notably higher under 3 C warming, but at the same time, variability between ensemble members also increases, leading to greater uncertainty regarding flood impacts at higher warming levels. Flood impacts are further shown to have an uneven regional distribution, with the greatest losses observed in the Asian continent at all analysed warming levels. It is clear that increased adaptation and mitigation efforts—perhaps through infrastructural investment4—are needed to offset increasing risk of river floods in the future.

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Change history

  • 11 September 2018

    In the version of this Letter originally published, the affiliation for Yukiko Hirabayashi was mistakenly given as ‘Institute of Industrial Science, The University of Tokyo, Bunkyō, Japan’. It should have read ‘Department of Civil Engineering, Shibaura Institute of Technology, Tokyo, Japan’. This has now been corrected.


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The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme FP7/2007-2013 under grant agreement no. 603864 (HELIX: High-End cLimate Impacts and eXtremes; www.helixclimate.eu). Y.H. received the Global Environmental Research Fund (S-14) from the Japan Ministry of Environment. We further thank Munich Re for access to the NatCatSERVICE database and the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters for access to the Emergency Events Database.

Author information


  1. European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC), Directorate Space, Security and Migration, Ispra, Italy

    • Francesco Dottori
    • , Lorenzo Alfieri
    •  & Luc Feyen
  2. European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC), Directorate Energy, Transport and Climate, Sevilla, Spain

    • Wojciech Szewczyk
    • , Juan-Carlos Ciscar
    •  & Ignazio Mongelli
  3. Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam, Germany

    • Fang Zhao
    •  & Katja Frieler
  4. Department of Civil Engineering, Shibaura Institute of Technology, Tokyo, Japan

    • Yukiko Hirabayashi
  5. Arcadia SIT, Vigevano, Italy

    • Alessandra Bianchi
  6. College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK

    • Richard A. Betts
  7. Met Office Hadley Centre, Exeter, UK

    • Richard A. Betts


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L.F. and J.-C.C. designed the flood risk modelling framework. F.D. and L.A. computed direct socio-economic impacts and I.M., W.S. and J.-C.C. calculated economic impacts on welfare. F.Z. and K.F. performed flood simulations and produced inundation maps. Y.H. contributed to the calculation of mortality. A.B. produced exposure maps and designed the figures. R.A.B. developed the SWL approach. F.D. performed validation exercises. All authors contributed to the writing of the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Francesco Dottori.

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    Supplementary Tables 1–10, Supplementary Figures 1–8, Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Results, Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary References

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