Guangzhou is one of the cities most at risk from flooding © Getty Images/iStockphoto
Guangzhou is one of the cities most at risk from flooding © Getty Images/iStockphoto

China at most risk from rising sea levels

27 February 2020

Just when China thought its economic woes couldn’t get any worse, a report finds two major manufacturing hubs are at significant risk due to rising seawater levels.

The 2020 Environmental Risk Outlook, from Verisk Maplecroft, examined the risks to 500 cities as a result of rising sea levels, and it finds the highest risk cities globally are Guangzhou and Dongguan. 

These two manufacturing hubs located in China’s Pearl River Delta Economic Zone, and are on their own responsible for generating 20% of the country’s GDP and 3.8% of global wealth.

The report comes as the death toll from the coronavirus in China reached more than 2,600, with more than 65,000 confirmed cases, while factory closures have hit the economy.

Guangzhou and Dongguan are among 11 Asian cities in the 15 most at-risk cities, with other major conurbations including Tokyo, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City and Shanghai. Dubai, Alexandria and New York also feature on the list.

Based on current sea level rises, the affected Chinese regions could face sea levels that are between 30-110cm higher than they are today, with rises of between 60-110cm being ‘most likely’. 

But according to the report, areas considered to be at high or extreme risk – such as Guangzhou and Dongguan – could see rises of as much as 2m unless action is taken now. In this situation, around 13% of rail, 12% of roads and 24% of industrial/commercial assets could be impacted. 

The report said: “The [Pearl River Delta] region boasts the bulk of China’s automotive, petrochemical and electronics powerhouses and marks the genesis of countless complex global supply chains.”

It added: “It is low-lying, like all deltas, and even conservative sea level rise projections have serious implications for the region’s economy.

“Around a fifth of Guangzhou’s urban area is classified as high or extreme risk in the Sea Level Rise Index. There are over 3,000km of sea defences in the Pearl River Delta, but a 30cm rise in global sea level would overwhelm many of them.”

Although the report appreciated Guangzhou is transitioning towards a more diverse economic mix, including having more financial services, it argued “its core economic manufacturing activities are not easily relocated and have long investment cycles”.

Across China, around $348bn of GDP and 7.8 million people are in areas considered to be at high or extreme risk of sea level rises in the coming century. 

Globally, more than a quarter of the 29 million people predicted to be directly threatened by sea level rises live in China.

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