BOSTON — Massachusetts will have to spend more than $18 billion to fortify its coastline against rising seas and monster storms fueled by a changing climate, according to a new report.
The report, compiled by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Climate Integrity — a nonprofit that supports states and communities that sue polluters — estimates the state would have to spend that much over the next 20 years to to fortify seawalls and other barriers to defend against erosion, flooding and other impacts of a warming planet.
Nationwide, 22 coastal states and Washington, D.C. will have to spend $400 billion collectively in that period to fend off the impacts of climate change, the report stated.
"As things stand, taxpayers are on the hook for all the costs," Richard Wiles, the group's executive director, said Wednesday during a phone briefing. The group says fossil fuel companies should be on the hook to "help communities adapt to the damage their products cost."
New England coastal waters are rising at an annual rate three to four times faster than the global average, according to the state Office of Coastal Zone Management, which attributes the trend largely to climate change exacerbated by human activity. Scientists also predict more storms such as those that battered the coast in 2011 and 2012.
"For coastal communities like Gloucester, Newburyport and Salem, the impact will be devastating," said Jack Clarke, legislative affairs director for the Massachusetts Audubon Society.
In Massachusetts, more than $1 trillion worth of coastal real estate, from Boston skyscrapers to Plum Island's beachfront homes, is potentially at risk from erosion and damaging storms, according to a 2015 report by state's Coastal Erosion Commission, of which Clarke was a member.
In Essex County, more than $100 billion is at risk, the report noted.
The state also has significant exposure to eroding shores, with more than $7.2 billion worth of assets located along the coast, from buildings to parks and beaches, according to the report.
Nearly 85 percent of the state’s 6.7 million residents live and work in cities and towns on the coast, the report pointed out.
Hurricane Sandy, which pummeled the eastern seaboard more than six year ago, cost more than $70 billion in damages — making it one of the costliest storms in U.S. history.
"These are big numbers, and they're likely to grow," Clarke said. "We need to take bold steps now to prepare and adapt, because climate change is likely to accelerate."
Massachusetts has pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and mandates an 80 percent reduction by 2050.
Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, is pursuing contracts for hydropower, solar, wind and other renewable energy sources to reduce greenhouse gases and meet those benchmarks.
In August, Baker signed a bill that authorizing the state to borrow up to $2.4 billion for projects aimed at making the state more resilient to climate change. The plan calls for shoring up seawalls along the coast and inland dams to prevent flooding, while also implementing a statewide climate adaptation plan.
On Wednesday, the Baker administration announced $12 million in grants to local governments to help fund climate change adaptation and resiliency plans.
Baker is also pitching a plan to increase in the state excise tax on real estate transfers to help communities better prepare for the effects of climate change.
The program would be paid for by an increase of more than 0.2 percent in the state’s deed excise tax rate. The tax is paid by the seller upon the transfer of a property.
He told members of the Joint Committee on Revenue on Tuesday that the plan would help state and local agencies prioritize and fund the protection of vulnerable assets.
"We have already seen the consequences that climate change is having on our state and in our country, and we are beginning to understand the mounting cost of these impacts," Baker told the lawmakers. "We are committed to substantially expanding our investment in resilient infrastructure and other adaptation strategies across the commonwealth."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Salem News and its sister newspapers and websites. Email him at email@example.com.