Nature and Biodiversity

Are floating-cities the solution to rising sea levels? The UN thinks so

A 3D model of a floating city is on display at a United Nations meeting on floating cities on April 3, 2009, in New York City, United States.

Could floating cities be a solution to climate change? Image: Thomson Reuters Foundation/Sebastien Malo

Sebastien Malo
Freelance contributor, Thomson Reuters Foundation
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Nature and Biodiversity?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Innovation is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Innovation

A U.N.-backed partnership will study the futuristic prospect of floating cities, looking at how platforms at sea might help bail out coastal cities at risk of flooding due to climate change.

With 90 percent of the world's largest cities vulnerable to inundation as glaciers melt and seas rise on a warming planet, modular platforms anchored to the sea floor could be connected in a ring to house communities atop the oceans, members said.

UN-Habitat, which works on sustainable urban development, will team up with private firm Oceanix, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and The Explorers Club, a professional society, to advance the concept, the coalition announced Wednesday.

As climate change gathers pace and more people crowd into city slums, "floating cities is one of the possible solutions", said UN-Habitat's executive director, Maimunah Mohd Sharif.

The partnership plans to build within months a prototype open to the public, which it hopes to dock on the East River next to U.N. headquarters.

Compared with another located in Copenhagen, the New York City version aims to grow its own food and meet its water and energy needs, said U.S. company Oceanix, which will build it.

The vision for floating cities has raised questions over whether they could divert attention from dealing with the root causes of climate change, which by boosting sea levels threatens low-lying coastal communities with storm surges and flooding.

Some have also warned the cities may end up being only for the ultra-rich - such as floating villas currently being sold off the coast of Dubai - a risk the new project aims to address by exploring sea-borne homes for the neediest too.

Have you read?

The concept has prompted cutting-edge research in water management, ocean engineering and farming that could produce floating cities which are self-sufficient and safe from extreme weather like storms, a discussion at the United Nations heard.

"We're basically building resilience at the platform level," said Marc Collins Chen, Oceanix chief executive.

Should global average temperatures increase 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7F) from pre-industrial times, sea levels could rise as much as 77 centimeters (30.3 inches) by 2100, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The lower 1.5C limit enshrined in the Paris Agreement is likely to be breached between 2030 and 2052 if global warming continues at its current pace and unprecedented measures are not taken to stem the increase, a 2018 IPCC report said.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that much of the technology emerging from research on floating cities could also be used to improve existing cities on solid ground.

"The benefits are not just going to be what you will be doing on water, but on land," he said.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Nature and BiodiversityUrban Transformation
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Court says rich countries must cut emissions faster than developing nations, and other nature and climate stories you need to read this week

Michael Purton

May 30, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum