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Climate cities: NYC, Venice among cities adapting to climate change

A tourist sits outside a cafe in a flooded St. Mark square as high tides reached 1.05 meters above sea level, partly flooding the city of Venice, Italy on Monday, Oct. 15, 2012. The Lagoon City is extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels. At the same time it is experiencing a lowering of the sea floor. The constant flooding puts the city’s considerable architectural treasures at risk. (AP / Luigi Costantini)
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Karl Ritter, The Associated Press
Published Sunday, June 16, 2013 9:23AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, June 16, 2013 10:37AM EDT

BONN, Germany– From Bangkok to Miami, cities and coastal areas across the globe are already building or planning defences to protect millions of people and key infrastructure from more powerful storm surges and other effects of global warming.

Some are planning cities that will simply adapt to more water.

But climate-proofing a city or coastline is expensive, as shown by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $20 billion plan to build floodwalls, levees and other defenses against rising seas.
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The most vulnerable places are those with the fewest resources to build such defenses, secure their water supplies or move people to higher ground. How to pay for such measures is a burning issue in UN climate talks, which just wrapped up a session in the German city of Bonn.

A sampling of cities around the world and what they are doing to prepare for the climatic forces that scientists say are being unleashed by global warming:

Rotterdam, Netherlands

In a country where two-thirds of the population lives below sea level, the battle against the sea has been a matter of life and death for centuries.

The Dutch government devotes roughly 1 per cent of its annual budget to its intricate system of dikes, dunes and sea walls. Improvements to cope just with the effects of climate change have been carried out since 2003 — though planning began well before that.

The focus in the 20th century was on a spectacular series of sea defences, including massive steel and concrete barriers that can be quickly moved to protect against storm surges.

But current techniques embrace a philosophy of “living with water:” Floods are inevitable, and it’s better to prepare for them than to build ever-higher dikes that may fail catastrophically.

Thousands of waterways are being connected so the country can essentially act as one big sponge and absorb sudden influxes of water. Some areas have been designated as flood zones. Houses that can float have been a building sensation.

Along the coast, the country has been spouting huge amounts of sand in strategic locations offshore and allowing the natural motion of waves to strengthen defensive dunes.

Venice, Italy

Sea level rise is a particular concern for this flood-prone city. It’s in the process of realizing an expensive and oft-delayed system of underwater barriers that would be raised in the event of flooding over 110 centimetres, higher than the 80-centimetre level that floods the famed St. Mark’s Square.

Venice, a system of islands built into a shallow lagoon, is extremely vulnerable to rising seas because the sea floor is also sinking.
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