I sent a letter about climate change to the Taipei Times on 7 January, but as of today it hasn’t been published (Update: published on 17 January). The Taipei Times published this letter on climate change today (which contains some ridiculous claims) and also Johnny Neihu took an amusing look at the qualities of Shezi Island in his column on Saturday. My letter follows:
The decision to develop Shezi Island (社子島) in Taipei as a “new Manhattan” is an example of short-sighted decision making (CEPD passes Shezidao development plan, Taipei Times, 6 January 2010). It shows that governments in Taiwan are not aware of, or planning for, the future impacts of climate change.
The Fourth IPCC Report released in 2007 predicted that sea levels will rise 18 to 59 centimetres by 2100. However, in recent years increased rates of melting in Greenland have led many scientists to believe these estimates are conservative.
Whatever the case rising sea levels pose a significant threat to Taipei and other coastal areas in Taiwan in coming decades. It is essential governments begin planning for this now.
It may be necessary to construct a barrier at the mouth of the Danshui River soon to reduce flood risks. There is already a flood control barrier on the Thames in London.
Beefing up infrastructure is essential to reduce the risk of flooding. However, it is also necessary to halt further development in coastal areas that could be subject to inundation and flooding in coming decades.
Massive development of one of Taipei’s most low lying and flood prone areas is a ridiculous idea. The only thing that Shezi Island may share in common with Manhattan in the future is that it has also been inundated by rising sea levels as a result of climate change.
As an addendum I’d also like to add some information about rising sea levels. The Earth Policy Institute reports that the increasing loss of ice sheets, sea ice, and glaciers around the world is an alarming indicator of climate change. Of particular concern is increased rate of melting of the Greenland ice sheet. The average annual melting in Greenland between 2002 and 2005 was triple that of the period from 1997 to 2003. There are also concerns about increased melting observed in the Antarctic in recent years.
Svetlana Jevrejeva of the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory, UK, predicts that sea levels could rise 0.8-1.5 metres by next century. This is much greater than the IPCC’s estimates. This is backed up by research which shows sea levels have risen at such rapid rates in the past. Anders Carlson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and colleagues found the Laurentide ice sheet, which covered most of North America between 95,000 and 7000 years ago, rapidly disintegrated. Their model predicted that sea levels would have risen at 1.3 metres per century.
To understand what areas would be affected by rising sea levels check this map showing areas inundated with sea level rises of one metre, which is a quite likely scenario by the end of the century. You can also select larger sea level rises via the drop-down menu in the top left hand corner. The areas of Taiwan most affected are the coastal regions extending from Pingdong to Yunlin Counties and the Taipei Basin.
This only tells part of the story though. Construction of barriers or raising the level of the land could help to mitigate rising sea levels to some extent. What is of more concern is much greater flood risks and increased difficulties of managing these risks. Something similar to what happened to New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina could also happen in Taipei in the future.