• Climate change is causing sea levels to rise, threatening low-lying cities around the world.
  • Sustainably designed buildings that float on water may be the answer for at-risk waterside communities.
  • Rotterdam has just launched the world’s largest floating office.
  • While the Maldives is building a low-rise city that floats on a flexible urban grid.
  • The World Economic Forum is campaigning for governments, businesses and communities to take urgent action to tackle climate change.

In a Dutch port more used to cargo ships and cranes, the world’s largest floating office has just settled into the harbour.

The carbon-neutral Floating Office Rotterdam (FOR) is created for a future in which rising sea levels caused by climate change are expected to bring more frequent and severe floods.

Opened in September by King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, the three-storey structure offers a glimpse into how the world might live with the effects of climate change.

How does it work?

FOR’s pontoons provide a stable floating foundation that enables the structure to move as water levels rise and fall. Renewable energy is drawn from huge solar panels above and beneath the water. A plant-filled roof leads to overhanging balconies that cool the interior and construction materials were chosen because they can be easily recycled when the building is no longer needed.

The project is supported by former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – whose non-governmental organization, the Global Center on Adaptation, is located there – as well as International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.

The Floating Office Rotterdam is designed to cope with climate change.
The Floating Office Rotterdam is designed to cope with climate change.
Image: Powerhouse Company

Gathering storm clouds

FOR is one of a number of buildings that have been redesigned to exist on the water in anticipation of rising sea levels, floods and land loss. This is forecast to badly affect millions of people in the near-future unless global warming can be kept to the Paris Agreement level of below 2°C.

By 2050, more than 570 cities will be exposed to the risk of rising sea levels, according to the C40 network of global cities collectively addressing climate change. It estimates that the economic cost of submerged and storm-ravaged communities could be $1 trillion.

Average rate of mean sea level rise worldwide between 1901 and 2018
Average rate of mean sea level rise worldwide between 1901 and 2018.
Image: Statista

A floating city in the Maldives

Low-lying islands are particularly vulnerable to rising seas and one of the world’s most exposed nations is the Maldives, 80% of which sits less than a metre above sea level.

With this in mind, the archipelago is building a low-rise city that floats on a flexible urban grid. Designed by Netherlands-based Dutch Docklands, the Maldives Floating City (MFC) will be located a 10-minute boat ride from the island capital, Malé.

The city will be made from interlinked sections strung across a 200-hectare lagoon; homes built in the local style will be connected by a network of bridges, canals and docks. A series of barriers aim to weaken the impact of waves while giant new artificial reefs will be grown to act as water breaks. Construction on the site is due to begin in 2022.

Maldives Floating City is a ‘flexible urban grid’, due to begin construction in 2022.
Maldives Floating City is a ‘flexible urban grid’, due to begin construction in 2022.
Image: Maldives Floating City

Future-proofing

In March, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization warned that the impact of our warming ocean “will be felt for hundreds of years”.

The World Economic Forum is calling for an accelerated effort to reach a net-zero world by 2050 at the latest.

The FOR initiative was designed and constructed with private money, but the Forum’s Climate Action Platform argues that “urgent public-private cooperation” is needed “on a global scale” to successfully tackle the world’s climate challenges.

Even if global warming is kept within the Paris Agreement targets, some environmental damage will remain unfixable, with floods and heavy rains still likely in some parts of the world. Floating structures can help such at-risk communities prepare for rising water levels.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the ocean?

Our ocean covers 70% of the world’s surface and accounts for 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. We can't have a healthy future without a healthy ocean - but it's more vulnerable than ever because of climate change and pollution.

Tackling the grave threats to our ocean means working with leaders across sectors, from business to government to academia.

The World Economic Forum, in collaboration with the World Resources Institute, convenes the Friends of Ocean Action, a coalition of leaders working together to protect the seas. From a programme with the Indonesian government to cut plastic waste entering the sea to a global plan to track illegal fishing, the Friends are pushing for new solutions.

Climate change is an inextricable part of the threat to our oceans, with rising temperatures and acidification disrupting fragile ecosystems. The Forum runs a number of initiatives to support the shift to a low-carbon economy, including hosting the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, who have cut emissions in their companies by 9%.

Is your organization interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Find out more here.