Earlier this month (February 2020), a nine-day heat wave scorched Antartica’s northern tip. A quarter of the Antarctic island’s snow cover melted, exposing the land beneath the ice cap and opening up pools of meltwater. The region experienced its hottest day on record. It was the same temperature in the Antarctic as it was in Los Angeles.
The meltwater that’s come as a result is suspected to be the highest contributor to sea level rise this coming summer, and summer hasn’t even started yet. These high temperatures experienced in the Antarctic had never occurred until the 21st century, but – as we know – they’re growing increasingly common as global temperatures rise. Though we’re not sure how fast or high sea levels will rise its principal impacts are sure to be floods, water contamination and the resultant economic and social effects.
However, a number of cities across the world are stepping up to the challenge. Though mitigating our carbon footprint is essential, sea level rise – at least to some extent – is all but guaranteed, it’s amazing to see how these different coastal cities are preparing to respond.
Known as one of the safest Delta cities in the world. In 1953 the Maesland Barrier was built, it protects the city’s 1.5 million people from floods without affecting sea traffic coming in and out of the international port. The key ingredient to Rotterdam’s success is said to be its attitude; seeing climate change as an opportunity to make the city more resilient, more attractive and economically stronger. Perhaps a view they are able to enjoy due to their economic strength and one not extendable to all cities under threat, but a positive and welcome one, nonetheless.
More recently, the city has launched new climate proofing strategies; converting ponds, parks and public spaces into part-time reservoirs to prepare for droughts and moving to adaptive buildings, like floating houses, to respond to higher sea levels.
Shanghai is the most flood prone city in the world. In addition to its sea walls and river management plans, Shanghai has introduced a ‘sponge city’ initiative. It means that most of the urban areas are now required to absorb or reuse 70% of storm water. Before now, rapid concrete development had blocked the natural flow of water but Shanghai is looking to reverse this by focusing on green infrastructure and permeable pavements to help manage runoff and store rainwater. As well as working to prepare the city against future flood risks, this more sustainable approach is improving citizens quality of life and contributing to the areas tourist industry!
SOUTH EAST ASIA
Many of these cities are too, building defences. Jakarta has built a massive sea wall, with help from the Dutch experts, while Bangkok is developing a 2600km canal network and a central park with a capacity to drain away 4 million litres of flood water into underground containers. Some are exploring the potential need for managed retreat, moving their residents inland – but the harsh reality is that many small island nations risk being drowned forever. Kiribati, a Pacific Ocean nation is potentially looking to purchase land in the neighbouring region of Fiji, to move its citizens if it becomes necessary. For some it really is fight or flight.
All of these cities are adopting proactive strategies to manage risk and where necessary, relocate populations. For some, the new mindset of adaptation is a welcome change to the impending threat that otherwise cast a shadow over many cities. It’s refreshing to see some of these coastal locations attempt to embody a more positive approach. Though we know the risk is huge, you can’t help but wonder if society would be more receptive to this good news, in comparison to the fear of climate change and its impacts that has dominated the scene for years. Though there is always more to be done, it’s said we can still reverse most of the damage it’s just that now, time is of the essence.