The study, led by Berlin-based think-tank Global Climate Forum and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, calculated the annual damages to buildings and other infrastructure in coastal regions at somewhere between $10-$40 billion per year and $100 trillion per year.
The worst of the predictions aren't slated to happen overnight, of course. The numbers are predictions for where the world will end up by the end of the century if no preventative measures are taken.
"If we ignore sea-level rise, flood damages will progressively rise and presently good defenses will be degraded and ultimately overwhelmed," argues Robert Nicholls, professor at University of Southampton and co-author of the paper.
"Hence we must start to adapt now, be that planning higher defenses, flood proofing buildings and strategically planning coastal land use."
And therein lies the kicker: with significant investment (about $10 - $70 billion per year), the study suggests the global economy can avoid worst case scenarios and contain damages to roughly $80 billion annually.
But some of the most vulnerable places, like coastal regions in Asia and Africa, lead author Jochen Hinkel says, need help. "Poor countries and heavily impacted small-island states are not able to make the necessary investments alone, they need international support."
Sea level rise is already happening, but it and other consequences of climate change can be mitigated, the study argues, with the reduction of greenhouse gases, smarter coastal development policies, and improved protection measures, like raised dams and dikes.
[Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences]