MB Feb | In imminent danger | Macau of Landfills

Macau undertakes the largest land reclamation programmes in China, which exacerbates the threat of rising sea levels. Typhoon Hato frightened MSAR's policymakers.

“Against a background of climate change, Macau is very exposed to sea level rise (SLR) because of its low elevation, small size, and ongoing land reclamation,” claims Chinese expert Gang Huang, author of the most comprehensive study on the consequences of SLR in Macau. 

The research team led by Professor Huang is unequivocal: “The sea level in Macau is now rising at an accelerated rate: 1.35 mm yr−1 over 1925–2010 and jumping to 4.2 mm yr−1 over 1970–2010, which outpaces the rise in global mean sea level. In the future, the rate of SLR in Macau will be about 20% higher than the global average as a consequence of a greater local warming tendency and strengthened northward winds.” 

Specifically, the sea level is projected to rise, according to this researcher from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, some 8–12, 22–51 and 35–118 cm by 2020, 2060 and 2100, respectively “depending upon the emissions scenario and climate sensitivity.” 

As we can see, landfills are not the cause of the problem although they aggravate the situation or at least make it feel much more so. “Due to its low lying elevation and significant coastal development, Macau faces huge risks from SLR.” 

“Macau is very exposed to sea level rise because of its low elevation, small size, and ongoing land reclamation” 

The warnings of Mr. Gang Huang, published in 2015, cannot leave anyone indifferent, particularly those administering Macau: “Generally, the rise of sea level [will] not only have tremendous impact upon Macau but [will] affect any coastal lowland. Nevertheless, compared to other port cities along the coastal margins of China, Macau is most susceptible to SLR-induced hazards. On the one hand, because of limited land areas, the landward migration of coastal assets and communities will be much more constrained. On the other hand, Macau has the largest land reclamation programmes in China, which in turn exacerbates the threats from SLR.” 

Have these warnings been taken note of in Macau? 

Although the government has never divulged specific information on the subject, it has been learned that the new zones are already being created with a higher quota compared to the old landfills. 

Still, it appears that those responsible only really woke up to the issue when confronted with the impact of Typhoon Hato, which raised sea levels to record highs last seen in 1925, prompting Transport and Public Works Secretary Raimundo do Rosário to say: “Let’s review the landfills.” 

That is, only at the end of 2017, when several are already in place. Can the new landfills undergo changes to better deal with rising sea levels? Still on time? 

Even though Professor Huang’s warnings have not been taken seriously, since 2001 at least no-one can say does not know what is going on: in that year the Third Assessment Report was published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, projecting that the global mean sea level would rise by between 9cm and 88cm by 2100. In 2009, the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report revised the predictions, saying global levels will rise by an average of 1 metre by 2100 if nothing positive is done. 

The problem is not specific to Macau and affects the entire Pearl River Delta coast, as several other studies have warned. The only difference is landfills. “Steady, sustainable reclamation of new land would be advantageous, but excessive reclamation will damage the city’s ecological health and weaken its sustainability. Thus, future reclamation should be carefully assessed from environmental and sustainability perspectives,” we can read in one of the rare scientific works on the subject made in Macau, by Kampeng Lei, from the Faculty of Science and Technology (UMAC), and Zhishi Wang (Macau Science Centre). 

“Global warming-related SLR constitutes a substantial threat to Macau due to its low elevation, small size and ongoing land reclamation” is the main conclusion of the study Historical Change and Future Scenarios of Sea Level Rise in Macau and Adjacent Waters undertaken by main researcher Gang Huang. 

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