New York, London could ‘show China the way’ to a climate-proof future

China needs to follow the example of global metropolises such as London or New York in building public infrastructure capable of withstanding extreme weather, the official newspaper of the environment ministry has said.

The China Environment News article comes as the country encounters yet another summer of severe weather brought on by climate change, with the south reeling under deadly floods and drought-like conditions gripping the central and northern provinces.

China needs to replan its cities and rural areas in view of the new climate conditions, and learn from cities around the world that have rebuilt their facilities to adapt to this change, the ecology and environment ministry publication said on Thursday.

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“In the past, the main urban infrastructure such as water and power networks, and flood control, were designed based on long-term average meteorological data with some additional safety margins. But extreme weather has changed the underlying logic of urban and rural planning and design,” said the article by Yang Pingjian, a researcher at the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Science.

Set up in 1978, the non-profit institute affiliated to the ecology ministry focuses on innovative environmental protection research.

“In cities with an average annual precipitation of 400mm, climate adaptation planning is needed to address the flood risks caused by hundreds of millimetres of rainfall over tens of hours, which have occurred multiple times,” the article said, citing the experiences of London and New York.

In the face of threats of coastal flooding caused by climate change, New York City planned a flood protection system in communities along the east side of Manhattan, which was struck by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

The system design integrated raised parkland, floodwalls, floodgates and infrastructure improvements to give waterfront communities long-term protection from storm surges and tidal flooding.

Asser Levy Playground, which was severely battered by Hurricane Sandy, was among the first projects completed under the push for “resilient infrastructure”.

Combining new “resilient” play equipment and flood protection, the playground reopened in 2022 with a new floodwall and a sliding floodgate capable of protecting an adjacent hospital and other public facilities from surging waters.

London is also striving to improve climate resilience, with the government recognising the three main climate risks of flooding, drought and overheating.

In anticipation of more frequent heatwaves, The London City Resilience Strategy of 2020 included plans to set up a network of cool spots for the public to rest and access drinking water.

London and New York are not the only cities making plans to withstand extreme weather. The European Commission adopted its new strategy on Climate Change Adaptation in 2021, and the coastal Danish capital of Copenhagen has drafted plans to use “climate parks” for floodwater storage.

“China’s urban and rural planning departments should also follow up promptly,” the article said.

The Ministry of Ecology and Environment warned last year that climate change was a major risk for development.

Improving the ability of infrastructure to adapt to climate change was also outlined in China’s 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) and National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy 2035.

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