The Asian Voice

Time for China to invest in sustainable floating cities: China Daily contributor

In the article, the writer encourages China to invest in building floating cities.

China has the opportunity to make history by being the first country to develop and build green floating cities on the ocean for humanity. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - In Chinese the word for "crisis" is comprised of two characters: one meaning "danger" and the other "opportunity".

The challenge of rising seas, due to the "crisis" of global warming, spells "danger".

The danger is that rising seas from global warming will devastate coastal nations like Bangladesh and completely eliminate island states like Maldives.

This will result in refugee crises on such a scale current predicaments will pale in comparison.

The opportunity is a fast-closing window for China to make history by being the first country to develop and build green floating cities on the ocean for humanity.

The vision for these cities, pioneered and designed by Marc Collins Chen, former tourism minister of French Polynesia, was inspired by nature, adapting biology and technology as guiding principles for the blueprints.

Does the idea of floating cities seem surreal?

"Floating cities are no longer science fiction - the technology to build human habitation on the ocean exists today," Collins Chen explained at the opening of the first United Nations roundtable on sustainable floating cities.

He said several countries and companies are in a fierce race to lead this frontier field and shape the course of history.

The United Nations is taking notice.

UN-Habitat convened on April 3 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City with ambassadors from UN member states. The Roundtable was co-convened by Oceanix, the company founded by Collins Chen, the MIT Center for Ocean Engineering, and the Explorers Club. Tencent also co-hosted a luncheon with UN ambassadors in support of the day.

This is the first High-Level Roundtable at the United Nations exploring sustainable floating cities as an adaptation strategy to deal with sea level rise and the devastation caused by land reclamation.

Maimunah Mohd Sharif, UN Under Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN-Habitat said for the first time in history, they are bringing leading visionaries, innovators, explorers, scientists and business leaders to share cutting-edge ideas on the potential of future cities to redefine the way we build, live, and work.

Top architect Bjarke Ingels, who together with Collins Chen designed the city for 10,000 residents said, "Oceanix city is a blueprint for a modular maritime metropolis anchored in the Sustainable Development Goals".

Currently there is a technology race to build the first green floating city for people to live sustainably on the ocean.

Singapore is cooperating with Norway on ambitious floating projects.

In Europe, Norway is putting the weight of its state-owned enterprise Equinor (formerly Statoil) into exploring this new space and building strategic alliances.

Norway is conducting workshops on floating cities.

The Netherlands, in cooperation with the United Nations, recently announced the creation of the Global Center on Adaptation to be housed in floating offices in Rotterdam.

This center will be led by several luminaries, including former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, business leader Bill Gates and CEO of the World Bank Kristalina Georgieva.

Collins Chen, one of the pioneers and leading experts in sustainable green floating cities, established his own company Oceanix Ltd, based in Hong Kong.

He hopes to leverage the technology edge offered by being in the Greater Bay area and expecting to build the first prototype for a floating city in China.

He said his decision to establish Oceanix in Hong Kong was very much inspired by policies from China for comprehensive "smart, green and blue" infrastructure integration.

China's Belt and Road policy seeks to integrate smart, ecological infrastructure among developing countries to facilitate trade, investment and communications while achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of reducing poverty and protecting the environment.

China's policy of the "ecological civilisation" prioritises environmental protection through technology application to enhance green energy and the development of ecological cities.

Protection of the oceans and water systems is a priority of the "ecological civilisation".

The Belt and Road follows the historical Silk Road and includes the historical Maritime Silk Road.

This covers a vast oceanography involving many sea-lanes for transport and many island areas. Some island archipelagos and many coastlines are threatened by rising ocean levels.

To prevent a migration crisis, it will be necessary to support increasing populations on the island states and coastlines that will be lost to rising seas.

This will require new, technologically smart and environmentally sound infrastructure.

The floating city concept hopes to address this need.

"China is in the perfect position to take leadership in this burgeoning industry of sustainable floating cities and lead humanity into an era of abundance," Collins Chen explained.

"Exponential technology in the fields of 3D printing, modular construction, generative design, nanotechnology, renewable energy, artificial intelligence and materials science would revolutionise how China builds on the ocean."

Chinese construction companies are already world leaders in building green sustainable buildings.

China is also the new world leader in renewable energy and is quickly becoming a hub for global artificial intelligence development.

One aspect of China's environmental policies that impressed Collins Chen was China's new national ban on coastal reclamation, a previous practice that damaged coastline ecosystems.

Floating Cities will be faster to develop than land reclamation in coastal cities.

In addition, they will be more environmentally friendly.

"Traditionally many fishing people in China lived on the water, particularly in my native Guangdong province. So in many ways, I am introducing new technology, while at the same time bringing a traditional concept back home," he said.

Meanwhile, many major coastal communities in China are under threat from the rising sea.

The situation is dire, with a recent study by Climate Central stating Chinese cities are the most at-risk of any nation.

Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Shanghai, already strained by population increases, are under threat from the rising sea.

This challenge is not unique to China.

Climate refugees, including those displaced by rising seas, will reach 1.4 billion by 2060 worldwide.

By 2100, an estimated US$1.4 (S$1.89) to US$14 trillion in infrastructure will be lost per year to sea level rise.

Guangzhou is listed by the World Bank as the city that will be the most economically impacted.

The challenges are many - but smart, environmental technology can help China meet these challenges.

Sustainable living on the ocean is no longer science fiction.

This is within China's technological reach and would solve complex challenges, including sea level rise while allowing for people to live comfortably on previously uninhabitable islands, by providing the floating infrastructure for complete ecological cities.

The ocean covers over 70 per cent of the surface of our planet.

It is the next frontier for human habitation.

Floating cities can be another aspect of China's solution.

The writer is the founding director of the Himalayan Consensus and a senior international fellow at the Center for China and Globalisation. China Daily is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media organisations.

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