China’s Expanding Land Reclamation Can Have a Severe Environmental Cost

In today’s rapidly expanding urban centres throughout the Global South, many reclamation efforts have evolved immensely. It has become more urgent to make a claim in this new territory for luxury residential, premium commercial, and industrial space as a result of the rising economic importance of coastal zones . Coastal region is not only the most active natural area on the Earth’s surface, with the richest ecosystems and the most abundant resources, but also the anthropic area with the densest population and well-developed economies
However, the size of China’s programmes to reclaim land from the sea as compared to those of other countries worries Choi, an assistant professor at Florida International University. According to her, coastal regions face enormous pressure from the burgeoning human footprint and reclamation attempts of China had largely ignored the danger posed by the potential for a sea level increase due to climate change .
The creation of artificial islands is one of the most noticeable aspects of coastal land reclamation in the twenty-first century. Reclamation is a common practice in several “ecocities,” including Caofeidian eco-city in Tangshan (China) and moreover cities are increasingly acquiring land for opulent offshore constructions, with Ocean Flower and Nanhai Pearl Islands in Hainan (China) serving as examples .
As Coastal Cities are also more vulnerable to sea level rise and coastal flooding as a result of these reclamation projects, experts are concerned about whether such contentious parts of coastal reclamation actually accomplish the environmental objectives they claim for .

As sea levels rises, is land reclamation still a good idea as China leads the way in creating new land?

Since 2000, many coastal land reclamation projects have been implemented in China to alleviate the shortage of coastal land resources with rapid urban sprawl and economic growth. As a result, both the length and proportion of artificial shoreline increased significantly. Meanwhile, coastal reclamation inevitably brings some negative environmental and ecological issues, such as biodiversity loss, water pollution, and wetland degradation. Nearly 90% of that land was created in East Asia, most often to make way for industry and port facilities catering to the globalized economy. From 2000 to 2020, Shanghai alone added around 350 square kilometers, with Singapore and Incheon, in South Korea, also raising vast new areas. Choi said that, until fairly recently, reclamation projects didn’t really take into account the risk posed by rising seas levels linked to climate change. The Earth’s Future study showed that most coastal land expansion in the past couple of decades happened in low-lying areas, with more than 70% of that land “at high risk from coastal flooding between 2046 and 2100,” due in part to storm surges linked to global warming and the risk of land subsidence.

Furthermore, recent research has emphasised how the real estate market influences the spread of land. Researches specifically emphasises China’s real estate market, which has seen a noticeable boom over the past two decades. Investment in this industry soared from 6 billion RMB in 2001 to 11 billion RMB in 2017, an almost 20-fold rise . Furthermore, analysts predict that ports are growing and developing at a never-before-seen rate at a time when global supply and demand networks are becoming more intertwined . According to reports, China, which alone is responsible for half of the increase in global maritime trade since 2010, is where the trend is most clearly visible. Many of China’s major coastal towns have had their ports expanded as a result of the country’s rise since its “opening up” as the world’s factory. For instance, Shanghai is ranked first among the top 50 container ports in the world by the World Shipping Council. To accommodate the demand for space in respective port jurisdictions, Tianjin, Shenzhen, and Qingdao have also together seized more than 44,000 acres of land. Furthermore, they assert that a number of new or expanded ports are built on reclaimed land, including those in Luanda (Angola) and Abidjan (Cote d’Ivoire), and that China’s recent economic investment plans are directly linked to port growth in many other nations.

Land reclamation now ‘a global-scale phenomenon’
Today, many reclamation projects in rapidly growing urban centers across the Global South have advanced far beyond a simple dike. The increased economic importance of coastal zones, especially in East Asia, the Middle East and West Africa, has spurred a rush to stake a claim in this new land for luxury residential, upscale commercial and industrial space. Others have remarked that these investments have become a major factor in the growth of coastal towns generally, particularly in Africa . Since 2000, there has been a significant investment for key development projects in the African continent such as railways, ports, healthcare, etc. .

Increased ocean trade in Africa is clearly prompting reclamation for port expansion, as in Luanda (Angola), Accra (Ghana), Port Elizabeth (South Africa), Nouakchott (Mauritania), Mombasa (Kenya), and Abidjan (Cote d’Ivoire). Abidjan, for example, has received a massive financial boost (more than 2.5 billion USD) to its port infrastructure (including land reclamation) and is now one of the largest ports in West Africa in terms of throughput. ‘Beijing, which is now reportedly responsible for approximately 70% of Djibouti’s total domestic product in debt, supported the country’s first overseas naval base and a railway to Ethiopia. These large expenditures made by Beijing in Dijbouti are a microcosm of how China has swiftly made considerable inroads throughout the nation. ‘However, reclaiming activities also cause a number of issues for the Gulf of Mexico, including area loss, resource consumption, biodiversity loss, ecological function degradation, which negatively impacts the balance of the coastal ecosystem and the sustainable growth of the social economy, and reduces the ability of ecosystem services (ESs) .

More significantly, land reclamation brings up environmental issues including coral reef loss, plastic pollution, and ocean acidification. The disruption of ecosystems and migratory routes is also included in this list of environmental consequences. Therefore, the government must improve closing the gap in the legal system if it is to prevent such illegal behaviour in the name of progress and modernity. Because “environmental value” does not exist in certain countries’ policies, the harm done to the environment is currently not seen as a cost in economic and social terms.


China, environment, land-reclamation