Fact check: Is sea level rise due to climate change?

High tides witnessed in the Indian Ocean. Scientists say rising sea level does more harm than good.

Photo credit: File

At the close of 2022, extended periods of heavy rainfall were recorded in Southern California, Central coast (California) and Nevada, USA, leading to floods that have led to loss of lives, destruction of property and declaration of a state of emergency on January 4, 2023.

However, while rescue was being conducted, a social media user took to Twitter to say that the flooding in California is punishment by God for legalising paedophilia. The tweet went ahead to say that sea levels have not risen because of climate change, and that climate change is a hoax.

While we cannot authoritatively say that the floods are God’s punishment, the claim that California legalised paedophilia is false. The claim disregarding the rising sea level is also false, because science has proven that the sea level has been rising because of climate change.

The sea level has risen 23 centimetres since 1880, with about 97 millimetres gained in the last 25 years, with the Sea Level Rise Technical Report released last year stating that the sea level will increase by a foot by 2050.

National Geographic

National Geographic explains that the sea level rise is linked to global warming, which has resulted in heating up of water and thus its expansion, melting glaciers and loss of Greenland and Antarctica’s ice sheets.

“When sea levels rise as rapidly as they have been, even a small increase can have devastating effects on coastal habitats farther inland, it can cause destructive erosion, wetland flooding, aquifer and agricultural soil contamination with salt, and lost habitat for fish, birds, and plants.

Higher sea levels are coinciding with more dangerous hurricanes and typhoons that move more slowly and drop more rain, contributing to more powerful storm surges that can strip away everything in their path,” says National Geographic.

Climate.gov explains that rising seas continue to threaten infrastructure and human populations along the world’s coastlines due to increased risk of high tide flooding, which is disruptive and expensive.

“As global temperatures continue to warm, additional sea level rise is inevitable. How much and by when depends mostly on the future rate of greenhouse gas emissions. But another source of uncertainty is whether big ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland will melt in a steady, predictable way as the Earth gets warmer, or whether they will reach a tipping point and rapidly collapse,” says Climate.gov.

Climate risk

Closer home, in Kenya, a 2021 country climate risk profile by the World Bank explains that Kwale, Mombasa, Kilifi, Tana River and Lamu counties are at risk of sea level rise, which, when combined with extreme weather events, is likely to lead to flooding.

“The coastal city of Mombasa is particularly exposed, with an estimated area of between four and six square kilometres likely to be submerged with a rise in sea level of only 0.3 metres. In other coastal locations, sea level rise is likely to render more acute the current water supply and salinisation problems, as freshwater aquifers are contaminated with saline water. Waterlogging of soils and the resulting salt stress might reduce crop production,” says the World Bank.

“Additionally, the health of coastal populations is at risk as saline intrusion affects coastal aquifers, and the permanent inundation of low-lying areas renders them uninhabitable. Kenya’s broader economy is also at risk from rising seas as coastal and marine resources, all critical to economic development through tourism, fisheries, shipping and port activities, suffer.

Rising sea levels will likely lead to damage and destruction of infrastructure, including ship docking ports and industries located in the coast if no adaptation strategies are implemented.

 The agriculture sector along the coast will also be impacted, with the loss of income of at least Sh47 billion as exported mango, cashew nut and coconut harvests will be affected by a one-metre sea level rise,” adds the report.

This fact check was produced by Nation with support from Code for Africa’s Pesa Check, International Fact Checking Network, and African Fact Checking Alliance Network.