While debate rages about how to fight climate change, the impacts that rising temperatures have already locked in are getting worse.

Why it matters: We’re learning more about how much of the damage is irreversible, like with rising sea levels — which means we need to think about not just stopping the problem, but also about adapting to the parts we can't stop.

Driving the news: Rising sea levels will threaten 40 million more people — three times that of previous estimates — over the next 30 years, new research says. Poorer Asian countries are most at risk.

What they’re saying: “Most sea level rise between now and 2050 is already baked in,” said Benjamin Strauss, co-author of the peer-reviewed report by science organization Climate Central.

The big picture: Most political attention focuses on how to slow climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions that are increasing Earth’s temperature, but an equally consequential part of this problem is adapting to a warmer world we’re already living in — and which we'll be living in no matter what in the coming decades.

What’s new: The researchers used a more sophisticated method of determining “the true ground level from the tops of trees or buildings,” co-author Scott Kulp told the NYT.

  • This method has already been used in more developed parts of the world, but not Asia, which is one reason the projected impacts are newest and most dire there.
  • “The numbers are biggest in Asia generally because there is such high-population density and it is so concentrated in the lowest elevations toward the coast,” Strauss said.
  • The research doesn’t account for population growth, so the impact could be even greater if these countries keep growing, which they’re expected to.

How it works: The research finds that 40 million more people will live in areas below high-tide levels by 2050 — which means, Strauss said, that “either you get coastal defense or you better move.”

  • This increase is on top of the 110 million people already living below high-tide levels with protection from infrastructure, like levees.
  • “While levees can protect us, they may also give us a false sense of security, because when they fail the results can be catastrophic,” said Strauss, noting the challenges facing New Orleans.

What we’re watching: Strauss hopes that this research galvanizes cities to better prepare for rising seas that are inevitably coming, but also momentum to cut emissions to limit the worst impacts by the end of this century.

  • His research suggests that if we continue business as usual — emissions left mostly unchecked — up to 200 million more people will be at risk by 2100.

Editor's note: The graphic in this story has been corrected to note that 760,000 people were estimated to be below high tide levels in the U.S. in 2010, not 76,000.

Go deeper

Newsom to Trump at wildfire event: "Climate change is real"

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) pointedly told President Trump on Monday afternoon that climate change is "exacerbating" the wildfires currently ravaging the West Coast.

Why it matters: Trump has repeatedly insisted that the fires were "about forest management," while dismissing climate change. Newsom acknowledged to Trump that "we have not done justice on our forest management," but emphasized that climate change was making everything much worse. A number of politicians have criticized Trump and his administration for not properly addressing climate change.

Updated 9 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 a.m. ET: 31,647,930 — Total deaths: 971,711 Total recoveries: 21,776,599Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9 a.m. ET: 6,897,661 — Total deaths: 200,818 — Total recoveries: 2,646,959 — Total tests: 96,612,436Map.
  3. Health: Hospitals want more time to repay pandemic loans — Supply shortages continue to plague testing.
  4. Business: The high-wage jobs aren't coming back
  5. Vaccines: Johnson & Johnson begins large phase 3 trial — The FDA plans to toughen standards.
  6. Sports: Less travel is causing the NBA to see better basketball.
Kendall Baker, author of Sports
52 mins ago - Sports

Less travel is causing the NBA to see better basketball

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In addition to keeping out the coronavirus, the NBA bubble has also delivered a stellar on-court product, with crisp, entertaining play night in and night out.

Why it matters: General managers, athletic trainers and league officials believe the lack of travel is a driving force behind the high quality of play — an observation that could lead to scheduling changes for next season and beyond.

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