Already, climate change is having a serious impact on global political and economic systems, and as temperatures continue to rise, this impact will only become more severe. Climate change touches nearly all aspects of human life, as governments around the world grapple with the logistics of dealing with the problem, and powerful industries such as oil and gas struggle to adapt to changing attitudes and environments. Perhaps a less-expected area affected by climate change is real estate; as the sea level rises and weather patterns shift, some properties, particularly ones close to coastlines and beaches, are experiencing a decrease in valuation as their long-term viability is called into question, whereas properties in once-undesirable locations are becoming more popular. The reality of climate change has already taken hold in the real estate industry, as investors, landlords, and homeowners attempt to prepare for the often-unpredictable effects of the phenomenon.
Investors are wise to recognize that the problem of climate change is not going away; in fact, recent studies have revealed that the impact of climate change is likely to be even more significant than previously feared, with polar ice caps melting at an alarming rate and sea level rises now expected to displace 150 million people worldwide. Moreover, the increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events brought about by higher global temperatures poses a threat to the integrity of real estate fixtures, and buildings constructed in vulnerable areas, without appropriate fortification, are at risk of collapse. Low- and moderate-income communities are at particular risk, as residents in these places are less likely to be able to afford dealing with the impacts of climate change, which at best causes property destruction and at worst can kill.
Certainly, one of the factors in the real estate industry’s slow reaction to climate change is denial; oftentimes, the position that trends in the industry will continue as they always have is far more palatable than grappling with an unpredictable, substantial destructive force.
The Federal Reserve Board of San Fransisco recently published a collection of reports detailing the intersection of climate change and real estate. The organization warns that climate change could cause home values to fall significantly, could disincentivize banks from lending to affected communities, and towns and cities may not have the necessary resources to build sea walls and other infrastructure to protect against climate change. However, the reports also detail economic opportunities that could arise from climate change. Despite the breadth of scientific data available about climate change, the real estate industry has been slow to react, meaning plenty of investors could be caught off-guard by climate-related devaluations in their properties, whereas shrewd investors can take advantage of their understanding of climate change by investing in properties that will become popular as people relocate away from the coasts and areas where extreme weather events will be most prevalent.
A number of factors complicate the real estate industry’s response to climate change. One such factor is the nature of how flood insurance is calculated; despite the presence of more up-to-date data, calculations for the probability of floods occurring in particular locations are based on outdated maps and figures and don’t take into account rising sea levels. Additionally, the federal government subsidizes flood insurance programs, incentivizing developers to invest in coastal properties even though they are at increasingly-greater risk of destruction. Certainly, one of the factors in the real estate industry’s slow reaction to climate change is denial; oftentimes, the position that trends in the industry will continue as they always have is far more palatable than grappling with an unpredictable, substantial destructive force. As such, experts in the field are advising business leaders and other high-impact decision makers to adapt to a “new abnormal,” which involves taking a radically different and unprecedented approach to making real-estate choices, even when they may seem counter-intuitive to those who fail to consider the extent of climate change and its impacts.
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