China’s Pearl River Delta, the country’s manufacturing hub and home to tens of millions of people, is the world’s most at-risk urban center from rising sea levels, according to a new study.
The region could be under at least 67 cm (26 inches) of water and as much as 2 meters by the year 2100 unless measures are taken now, according to Verisk Maplecroft, a U.K.-based risk advisory company.
Tokyo, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City and Shanghai, as well as Dubai, New York and Alexandria in Egypt are also in danger, according to the study, which assessed 500 cities with a population of more than a million.
“While sea level rise is seen as a longer term problem, it needs to be considered today,” Verisk Maplecroft’s environment analyst Rory Clisby and head of environment and climate change, Will Nichols, wrote in a report. “The question governments and investors need to be asking is: which major cities are at risk of disappearing beneath the waves?”
By 2100, sea levels could rise between 60 and 110 cm if greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow, the analysts said, based on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report that found sea levels are climbing 3.6 mm per year, and that rate is speeding up.
More than 200 million people will be living in low elevation areas by 2100, up from 85 million now, according to the U.N.’s IPCC. As well as curbing carbon emissions, measures such as building seawalls and dikes and reducing the population in exposed low-lying regions are needed, the panel said.
The Chinese coastal cities under threat are at the center of the country’s economic development. Shanghai, for example, is the country’s commercial center, while Guangzhou and Dongguan in the Pearl River Delta have a large number of automotive, petrochemical and electronics factories and are essential to global supply chains.
China has already been hit with the consequences of climate change and rising waters. Ocean disasters, including storm surges, coastal erosion and waves, killed 73 people and cost the country over 4.7 billion yuan ($670 million) in 2018, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources.
The average rate of increase in sea levels along China’s coast was 3.3 mm per year between 1980 and 2018, faster than the global average, the ministry said.
The Chinese government has taken some measures to ward off the threat with engineering strategies. Shanghai has constructed 520 kilometers of protective seawalls, and in 2015 launched the “sponge cities” initiative, which requires that 80 percent of all urban land become capable of absorbing or reusing 70 percent of storm water.
“The investment decisions for real assets like power plants, airports, railways that will be around in 2050 are being made today,” Verisk’s Nichols said in an email. “Organizations that are not willing or able to forecast these risks are going to face tough questions from investors and may find credit harder to come by.”
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