This study explores the uncertainty introduced in global assessments of coastal flood exposure and risk by not accounting for water level attenuation due to land–surface characteristics. We implement a range of plausible water level attenuation values in the flood module of the Dynamic Interactive Vulnerability Assessment (DIVA) modelling framework and assess the sensitivity of flood exposure and flood risk indicators to differences in attenuation rates. Results show a reduction of up to 47 % in area exposure and even larger reductions in population exposure and expected flood damages.