Global Warming Effects Around the World

Antigua and Barbuda

Top Impact

Oceans (Sea level)

Other Impacts

People (Costs)

People (Water Use)

Sandy beaches at risk due to sea level rise in Antigua and Barbuda

Tourism is an economic mainstay for the islands of Antigua and Barbuda. However, their sandy beaches, which draw nearly a million visitors each year, are at risk of becoming inundated by rising seas—the result of heat–trapping emissions from human activities. 1

Key Facts

Known for its sandy beaches and luxurious resorts, the small island nation of Antigua and Barbuda draws nearly 1 million visitors each year.2 Sea–level rise resulting from global warming emissions—combined with long–term degradation of the islands' coral reefs and mangrove ecosystems—is threatening the beaches and marine resources that sustain the islands' tourism industry.2

  • Tourism accounts for 60 to 75 percent of Antigua and Barbuda's gross domestic product, and employs nearly 90 percent of the population.2,3 As heat–trapping emissions continue to rise, scientists project that sea level will rise by 2.6 to 6.6 feet (0.8 to 2.0 meters), which would severely affect the islands' major resorts.8,17
  • Sea–level rise is likely to worsen existing environmental stresses in Antigua and Barbuda, such as a scarcity of freshwater for drinking and other uses7,8,9
  • As Earth's climate continues to warm, rainfall in Antigua and Barbuda is projected to decrease, and winds and rainfall associated with episodic hurricanes are projected to become more intense.8,19,20 These changes would likely amplify the impact of Sea–level rise on the islands.


The nation of Antigua and Barbuda is a popular tourist destination—attracting nearly 1 million visitors annually—as well as home to more than 86,000 people.2 Tourism accounts for a critical 60 to 75 percent of the country's gross domestic product,2,3 and employs nearly 90 percent of the population.2 Sea–level rise resulting from heat–trapping emissions—combined with long–term degradation of the islands' coral reefs and mangrove ecosystems—is threatening the beaches and marine resources that sustain tourism.2

Since the 1950s, sea level in Antigua and Barbuda has been rising at a rate of 0.06 to 0.08 inch (1.6 to 2.0 millimeters) per year.4,5 The rate of Sea–level rise globally has accelerated in the last two decades, averaging 0.13 inch (3.3 millimeters) annually between 1993 and 2008.6

Rising seas are likely to exacerbate freshwater scarcity on the islands, particularly Barbuda. That island is heavily dependent on groundwater for domestic uses, but its water table is relatively shallow, and most of its aquifers and wells are close to the coast.7 The island has already seen saltwater intrude into its aquifers,8 and had to import freshwater from other countries during a series of low–rainfall years in the early 1980s. 9

Part of a Larger Pattern

Sea–level rise could worsen natural and human–related stresses in Antigua and Barbuda. The islands are susceptible to hurricanes, which have negative effects on the nation's tourism industry.7,10 In 1995, for example, when hurricanes Luis and Marilyn struck the islands, nearly all major tourism resorts were damaged, tourist arrivals fell by 17 percent, and 7,000 people were left unemployed.7

Mangroves and coral reefs can help protect islands from hurricanes by dissipating the energy of storms before landfall. While both of these protective ecosystems can adapt to Sea–level rise, environmental stresses may hinder that adaptation. For example, coastal development destroyed 83 percent of Antigua and Barbuda's mangroves from 1980 to 1990.11 That development also obstructs migration paths for the remaining mangroves.12

The coral reefs that fringe much of Antigua and Barbuda's coastlines are also at very high risk because of overfishing and coastal development,13 and suffered extensive damage during the 1995 hurricane season.14 Those stresses could prevent reefs from adapting to climate change, and leave the islands more exposed to Sea–level rise and hurricanes.

Barbuda is just one of many places around the world threatened by Sea–level rise. Globally, sea level has been rising by 0.07 inch (1.7 millimeters) per year since 1950.5 Scientists attribute the rise to two main processes.

First, human–induced warming of the oceans from heat–trapping emissions causes seawater to expand. This expansion of the oceans has contributed about 25 percent of the long–term rise in sea level since the middle of the twentieth century.15 Second, melting glaciers and land ice worldwide adds water to the oceans—a growing source of Sea–level rise.4,16

What the Future Holds

After studying the volume of water that could come from melting glaciers and ice sheets, scientists calculate that a sea level rise of 2.6 feet (80 centimeters) by 2100 is likely—and as much as 6.6 feet (2 meters) is possible, depending on the pace of our heat–trapping emissions.17

Because Barbuda's topography is very low and its beaches are easily eroded, small changes in the vertical height of the sea translate into much larger inundation of the land. For every 0.04 inch (10 millimeters) of Sea–level rise, the islands are projected to lose about 3.3 feet (1 meter) of land.7

By the end of the century, that would translate to a shoreline retreat of about 130 feet (40 meters) for the islands.7 This loss of land would severely affect 9 percent of major resorts in Antigua and Barbuda.8

Because of continued burning of oil, gas, coal, and trees and the resulting global warming emissions, scientists expect other aspects of the islands' climate to change as well. They project a 13.3 percent decline in precipitation for the region around Antigua and Barbuda, given mid–level scenarios for future emissions.18

At the same time, human caused warming of the Caribbean region is likely to intensify winds and rainfall associated with infrequent hurricanes increasing the risk to buildings, roads and other infrastructure.19,20 Saltwater intrusion, reduced recharge of groundwater resources, and erosion associated with these changes in climate could further threaten the islands' freshwater resources and tourism industry.8



  1. Photograph used with permission of Liem Bahneman. Online at Accessed on January 9, 2013.
  2. Carr, L.M., and W.D. Heyman. 2009. Jamaica bound? Marine resources and management at a crossroads in Antigua and Barbuda. Geographical Journal 175(1):17–38.
  3. CIA WorldFactBook. Washington, DC. Online at Accessed May 5, 2011.
  4. Bindoff, N.L., J. Willebrand, V. Artale, A, Cazenave, J. Gregory, S. Gulev, K. Hanawa, C. Le Quéré, S. Levitus, Y. Nojiri, C.K. Shum, L.D. Talley, and A. Unnikrishnan. 2007. Observations: Oceanic climate change and sea level. In Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, edited by S. Solomon, D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M. Tignor, and H.L. Miller. Cambridge, UK, and New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
  5. Church, J.A., and N.J. White. 2006. A 20th century acceleration in global Sea–level rise. Geophysical Research Letters 33:L01602.
  6. Ablain, M., A. Cazanave, G. Valladeau, and S. Guinehut. 2009. A new assessment of the error budget of global mean sea level rate estimated by satellite altimetry over 1993–2008. Ocean Sciences 5:193–201.
  7. Antigua and Barbuda, 2001. Antigua and Barbuda's initial national communication on climate change. St. John's, Antigua and Barbuda: Office of the Prime Minister.
  8. Simpson, M.C., D. Scott, M. New, R. Sim, D. Smith, M. Harrison, C.M. Eakin, R. Warrick, A.E. Strong, P. Kouwenhoven, S. Harrison, M. Wilson, G.C. Nelson, S. Donner, R. Kay, D.K. Geldhill, G. Liu, J.A. Morgan, J.A. Kleypas, P.J. Mumby, T.R.L. Christensen, M.L. Baskett, W.J. Skirving, C. Elrick, M. Taylor, J. Bell, M. Rutty, J.B. Burnett, M. Overmas, R. Robertson, and H. Stager. 2009. An overview of modeling climate change impacts in the Caribbean region with contribution from the Pacific Islands. Barbados, West Indies: United Nations Development Programme.
  9. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rome, Italy. Online at Accessed May 5, 2011.
  10. Haites, E., D. Pantin, M. Attzs, J. Bruce, and J. MacKinnon. 2002. Assessment of the economic impact of climate change on CARICOM countries. Prepared for W. Vergara. Washington, DC: World Bank, Environment and Socially Sustainable Development, Latin America and Caribbean.
  11. Ellison, A.M., and E.J. Farnsworth. 1996. Anthropogenic disturbance of Caribbean mangrove ecosystems: Past impacts, present trends, and future predictions. Biotropica 28(4a):549–565.
  12. Lewsey, C., G. Cid, and E. Kruse. 2004. Assessing climate change impacts on coastal infrastructure in the Eastern Caribbean. Marine Policy 28:393–409.
  13. Burke, L., K. Reytar, M. Spalding, and A. Perry. 2011. Reefs at risk revisited. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute. Online at Accessed May 5, 2011.
  14. Spalding, M.D., C. Ravilious, and E.P. Green. 2001. World Atlas of Coral Reefs. Prepared at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre. University of California Press, Berkeley, USA. Online at =_28aKt4itc&sig=M9L0yr75c8wNHACYKuXqps-P5JY&hl=en&ei=c_O9TeGUJo-WsgOK0Z3DBQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CC4Q6AEwAjgK#v =onepage&q=barbuda%20coral&f=false. Accessed on May 1, 2011.
  15. Domingues, C.M., J.A. Church, N.J. White, P.J. Glecker, S.E. Wijffels, P.M. Barker, and J.R. Dunn. 2008. Improved estimates of upper-ocean warming and multi-decadal Sea–level rise. Nature 453: 1090–1094.
  16. Meier, M.F., M.B. Dyuergerov, U.K. Rick, S. O'Neel, W.T. Pfeffer, R.S. Anderson, S.P. Anderson, and A.F. Glazovsky. 2007. Glaciers dominate eustatic Sea–level rise in the 21st century. Science 371:1064–1067.
  17. Pfeffer, W.T., J.T. Harper, and S. O'Neel. 2008. Kinematic constraints on glacier contributions to 21st–century Sea–level rise. Science 321(5894):1340–1343.
  18. The scenario referred to here is the middle–emissions pathway known as A1B from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
  19. Meehl, G.A., T.F. Stocker, W.D. Collins, P. Friedlingstein, A.T. Gaye, J.M. Gregory, A. Kitoh, R. Knutti, J.M. Murphy, A. Noda, S.C.B. Raper, I.G. Watterson, A.J. Weaver and Z.–C. Zhao. 2007. Global Climate Projections. In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Edited by S. Solomon, D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M. Tignor and H.L. Miller. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
  20. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2012. Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation. A special report of Working Groups I and II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Edited by C.B. Field, V. Barros, T.F. Stocker, M. Tignor, and P.M. Midgley. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, and New York, NY. USA.
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