On the 6th of February 2017 the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment signed a Statement of Intent, together with global partners, which marks the start of the Global Centre of Excellence on Climate Adaptation. The Centre will address the challenges faced when dealing with climate change adaptation issues. The initiative will be led by the Netherlands, Japan and UN Environment.
The ground-breaking Paris Climate Change Agreement has made climate change adaptation a global priority. By supporting those that struggle with climate change adaptation and developing a pool of global knowledge on the subject, The Centre of Excellence on Climate Adaptation hopes to contribute to the resilience of our planet whilst helping others that are dealing with issues such as natural disasters and economic disruptions.
That was the headline in the New York Times last week when the news broke about The Seasteading Institute’s plans to develop the first floating city in the waters of French Polynesia. The project has gained extensive international attention with prominent (online) newspapers covering the story such as The Daily Mail Online, The Dutch Cowboys and De Tijd.
To date, The Seasteading Institute has raised around $ 2.5 million from more than 1.000 investors to take the first steps in realising a seastead in a lagoon off the island of Tahiti. It is estimated that a total of between US $10 million and US $50 million will be needed to realise this ambitious plan.
The floating city will consist of 16 platforms made from reinforced concrete that will be strong enough to support three-storey buildings such as appartments, hotels and offices. Blue21 has been collaborating with The Seasteading Institute on the design of the sustainable modular platforms which will enable inhabitants to rearrange them according to their needs. Over the coming months Blue21 will continue collaborating with the Seasteading Institute to finalize the design of the floating city and the plans for development. Construction should start by 2019.
Where privately funded organisation such as The Seasteading Institute have clear ideas on how to overcome the challanges that climate change bring us, governments seem to be less focussed on battling these dangers. In the run-up to the upcoming elections in The Netherlands the national newspaper Trouw looked into the plans running political parties have for taking a stand in climate change. Unfortunately none of the parties seem to have a clear strategy on how to proceed. Let’s hope that the government will be inspired by the historical deal made in French Polynesia and take concrete steps against climate change in other parts of the world.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and nineteen fellow investors have set up the Breakthrough Energy Venture (BEV) which is focussed on fighting climate change by investing in forms of clean energy. Jack Ma (Alibaba), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Hasso Plattner (SAP), Richard Branson (Virgin) and former energy hedge fund manager John Arnold are just several of the multimillionaire investors who are committed to developing commercial clean energy technology. According to Forbes Magazine the combined net worth of the directors is estimated to be close to $ 170 billion.
Over the next 20-years BEV will aim to commercialize clean energy by investing in new technologies that reduce greenhouse- gas emissions and deliver affordable and reliable energy for future generations. This news follows the latest reports of president-elect Donald Trump appointing vocal climate-change deniers who advocate for traditional energy sources such as gas, oil and coal, the exact opposite of the emission-free future that BEV is striving to realize.
Here at Blue21 we are thrilled with this news. Generating renewable energy on land and of course on sea!! is the only way to keep our blue planet habitable.
Online newspaper Quartz has published an article about the BEV initiative.
The battle against climate change will be a race against the clock. Engineers will have to fight on two fronts. The first front is the transition towards a sustainable energy system. The second front is the protection of the population against sea level rise, floods, droughts and heat waves.
Wake-up calls Climate change is happening right now and at a frightening speed, especially in the Arctic. To underpin the need for action, I share three wake-up calls:
The Arctic is melting
Video: Time-lapse video showing the relative age of Arctic ice week-by-week from January 1990 until September 2015. Source: NOAA.
Temperature records are broken all over the world
Animation: Global temperatures from 1850 to 2016, by Ed Hawkins, climate scientist in the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading.
Engineers in the forefront We can’t afford to ignore the warning signs. The longer we wait, the harder it will be to get climate change under control. After long negotiations, world leaders have agreed on action at the Paris climate summit. Now it’s up to the engineers to develop ambitious plans and innovative solutions.
Towards 100% sustainable energy In theory, the area of all solar panels that are needed to power the world is a small percentage of the surface of the earth. In reality, where humans live, the earth is already covered with farmland, houses and industries. Furthermore, solar energy must either be stored during the night, or be supplemented by other energy sources.
We need to find more places to host solar panels, wind-farms and biomass production plants. Increasingly, reservoirs, seas and oceans are regarded as the place to be.
“Water systems will play a vital role in the production of sustainable energy”
Many reservoirs in rivers are already in use for hydro-power production and the temporary storage of excess energy. Offshore wind turbines produce electricity for coastal cities. The rough conditions at sea require a robust design of the constructions. Floating wind-farms are the latest development in the offshore wind industry.
Simulation of floating wind turbines, by Bo Paulsen and Niek Bruinsma, Deltares.
Yet there is more to explore at sea, such as tidal energy, wave energy and biomass production. Seaweeds and algae grow on solar energy and consume the greenhouse gas CO2. A good combination, as Blue21 indicated in their call for action. The seaweeds and algae can be used to produce biofuels, chemicals and food.
Let’s think big about the opportunities at sea. The combination of seaweed farms with wind-farms, former oil platforms and industrial facilities might be very effective. At such an offshore energy plant, biomass can be processed and energy stored, before it is transported to the shore.
Energy sources of the future: seaweed and waves. Image by Alan Robb.
Adaptation to climate change Even if we could switch to 100% sustainable energy overnight, the climate will continue to change, due to past emissions of greenhouse gases. Sea levels will rise, and the frequency of floods, droughts and heat waves will increase.
Engineers can design technical solutions to these problems. Coastal cities can build dikes and structures to prevent flooding. Nowadays, smart dikes are equipped with sensors that give continuous feedback on the actual state of the dike.
“Investments in flood defences for an uncertain future must be well-founded”
In delta areas, there is a complex combination of factors at play. Sea level rise and land subsidence, floods and droughts, urbanisation and technological progress account for an uncertain future.
Adaptive delta planning is a new method to design a roadmap to the future. The roadmap shows the signposts that trigger policy actions. The improvement of a flood defence system will be triggered when sea level, land subsidence or population growth exceed a certain threshold.
Video: Adaptive delta planning, by Deltares.
Conclusion Climate scientists have been warning us for decades. The Paris climate agreement made clear that the political leaders are ready for action. More than ever, engineers will have to show what they are capable of and develop sustainable solutions. Climate change is the challenge of our generation.
Joost Icke, software manager at Deltares and environmental engineer.