A new report by the Climate Council has found that rising sea levels over the next century imperil as much as $200 billion worth of infrastructure assets in Australia.

The report referred to the problem as a “sleeping giant of risk to future prosperity.”

The report, entitled Counting the Costs: Climate Change and Coastal Flooding, claims that sea levels are likely to increase by between 40 centimetres and one metre over the upcoming hundred years, putting huge swathes of coastal infrastructure and its associated economic output at risk.

According to the report, rising sea levels will affect Australia’s most affluent and productive regions given their predominately coastal locations, with hard-hit areas including Sydney, coastal Victoria, and the south-eastern part of Queensland.

Lead author of the report Professor Will Steffen said that given the close proximity to the coast of more of 75 per cent of the Australian population, associated infrastructure assets are at very high risk.

Will SteffenSteffen points out that given the coastal location of so many of Australia’s roads, rail lines, ports and airports, a 1.1-metre sea level rise over the next century would put over $200 billion in infrastructure assets at risk.

This figure is largely in line with a federal government assessment conducted in 2011, which found that around $226 billion in commercial, industrial, road and rail and residential assets around Australia’s coasts would be exposed to flooding and erosion-related hazards were seas levels to rise 1.1 metres by 2100.

The frequency of flooding would increase tremendously, with Steffen saying that Sydney could be exposed to one-in-100-year floods on a regular basis by the end of the century, making it impossible to function effectively as a major population centre.

According to Steffen, any future infrastructure plans will need to take projected sea level gains into consideration, and could cause trepidation amongst investors. A good example is the third runway planned for Brisbane’s airport, which saw the project’s financial backers approach leading Australia scientists for advice before deciding to build it higher than originally expected.

Global losses from coastal flooding and land erosion are expected to hit US$1 trillion per year by mid-century – an amount commensurate with the entirety of the Australian economy, if the dilemma of rising sea levels is ignored.