Blueprints to create the planet’s first floating city could be made reality within the next decade as scientists ratchet up efforts to safeguard communities threatened by rising sea levels.
The United Nations is spearheading the revolutionary project, which will see self-sufficient buoyant platforms anchored to the sea bed upon which houses can be built.
Each one would be sturdy enough to home tens of thousands of people while also boasting typical town features such as public squares and markets.
When the plan was unveiled last year it grabbed headlines because of its scale of ambition, but this week senior figures breathed new life into the idea by speculating a 10-year timetable for the first floating city could be achievable.
UN-Habitat’s deputy director Victor Kisob said: ‘Floating cities sound like a crazy idea but they could lead to all sorts of possibilities if done in the right way,’ according to the National.
He added: ‘The next step would be to design a prototype with partners from the private sector that could be tried and tested.’
Ninety per cent of the world’s largest cities are vulnerable to submergence as glaciers melt and seas rise on a warming planet.
UN-Habitat, which works on sustainable urban development, has teamed up with private firm Oceanix, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and The Explorers Club, a professional society, to advance the concept.
Scientists are also thrashing out plans to insulate these cities, which will be located roughly a kilometre from the mainland in the shallows, from being crippled by freak weather.
Marc Collins Chen, chief operating officer of Oceanix, said today at the World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi: ‘I often get asked if these settlements would be robust against tsunamis, hurricanes and other severe weather extremities.
‘We are working with MIT’s Centre for Ocean Engineering to see how these modular structures can sustain category five weather conditions.’
The floating cities concept is wrapped into a wider package to develop sustainable cities, which is one of UN-Habitat’s sustainability development goals (SDGs) it hopes to meet by 2030.
Maimunah Mohd Sharif, executive director of the UN arm, told delegates at the WUF: ‘What I hope to see from the Tenth session is a set of declared actions.
‘Commitments that we will make on a voluntary basis as individuals, communities, cities and countries, at local, regional and global levels, that help mark this Decade of Action to accomplish the SDGs by 2030.’
The partnership plans to build within months a prototype open to the public, which it hopes to dock on the East River next to UN 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.
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 (2.7°F) from pre-industrial times, sea levels could rise as much as 30.3 inches (77cm) by 2100, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The lower 1.5°C 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 Reuters 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.