Climate Change Could Devastate Many of China’s Major Cities

Bye-bye, Shanghai. Three maps show the immense damage rising sea levels could do.


The warming of the earth’s climate has already changed life on its surface in substantial ways. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), established by the UN, has been monitoring the planet’s cryosphere — water frozen primarily in the forms of ice, snow, glaciers, permafrost — since 1979. This frozen water has been steadily melting — especially sea ice, glaciers, and ice sheets — and running into the world’s oceans, causing them to rise. According to the IPCC’s most recent predictions, if the current trajectory continues, as many scientists fear it will, the world’s sea level will rise dramatically, submerging many of world’s current coastlines under more than 200 feet of water. That includes many of the major cities in China.

That future may still be centuries off, but cartographer Jeffrey Lin has already begun to fathom what the world will look like when it arrives. His maps of Seattle (his hometown), Los Angeles and San DiegoPortland, and Vancouver plot the new coastlines that will emerge from the rising waters. ChinaFile asked Linn to apply the same techniques to China’s coast, where some 43 percent of its population currently lives. The maps below show what may happen to the contours of China’s cities as the planet’s temperature continues to warm over the course of the 21st century and into the next one.


Shanghai, with its current population of more than 20 million, would be completely underwater if all of the ice melts, and ocean water would reach miles up the Yangtze river. Here’s how it looks now:


Here’s how Shanghai might look in the next century:


Pearl River Delta

The delta is home to 30 million people and includes the major trading and manufacturing cities of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou. Here’s how it looks now:


Here’s how the Pearl River Delta might look in the next century:


Hong Kong

Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated places in the world, due in large part to it being a mountainous island. In 2013, some 36 million visitors came to the island. Here’s how Hong Kong looks now:


Here’s how Hong Kong might look in the next century:


Images by Jeffrey Linn/Copyright ChinaFile

Jeffrey Linn is an urban planner, designer, and cartographer focused on sustainability and active transportation issues. He currently lives in Seattle.
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