Maritime mayors sign pact to protect coastal cities

Representatives from Lagos and Marseille speak of existential battle against rising sea

Lagos island in Nigeria has had much success in reclaiming land from the sea. Getty
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Maritime mayors and politicians from around the globe have signed a pact to fight the erosion of coastal cities, a phenomenon that is gathering pace due to climate change.

The mayors signed the Sea’ties initiative on Thursday at One Ocean conference in Brest, France, where leaders from around the world are meeting to discuss issues pertaining to the blue economy.

The initiative was started to provide a platform for sustainable policies and solutions aimed at mitigating the damage of rising sea levels.

In the past 100 years, thermal seawater expansion and glacier melt have caused them to rise by about six to eight inches, with devastating consequences.

Much reparative and palliative work is already under way in coastal cities around the globe, with Africa’s largest city – Lagos, in Nigeria – on the maritime front line.

“When we were growing up [in the 1960s and 1970s] we used to walk about two kilometres before you see the ocean,” Tunji Bello, honourable commissioner for the Lagos environment ministry, told One Ocean summit delegates.

“Yet by the 1990s the ocean rise had taken over the dual carriageway.”

The inexorable oceanic annexation of Lagos led to the municipal government in 2005 taking over from the federal government in an effort to find a solution.

“What we did was to start re-engineering,” said Mr Bello.

A new city is now emerging – we have created about 1,000 hectares of land
Tunji Bello, Lagos environment ministry

“So far, we have been able to recover about 6.5 kilometres of the city, so you have to walk about three kilometres now to see the ocean.

“A new city is now emerging. We have created about 1000 hectares of land.”

The target is to reach 8.5 kilometres. Mr Bello said this was “a great challenge”, particularly financially.

With only two kilometres to go, the challenge looks attainable – but the coastal city of Lagos is only one part of the region, and many areas farther out are increasingly affected.

Man versus ocean: a Sisyphean task?

The endless challenge of shoring up coastal cities brings to mind the mythical swindler Sisyphus, whose punishment for trying to cheat death was to roll a boulder up a mountain for eternity.

The Homeric analogy was made by Herve Menchon, the mayor of Marseille.

He described the “frequent risk of submersion and flooding” that faces France’s biggest coastal city.

“This issue leads to environmental, social, economic, cultural and safety problems,” he said.

Marseille has begun to reinforce the most vulnerable areas that are accessible to the public, and is repairing dykes and rocky areas. But the work is more than physical. Hearts and minds must also be won.

“We need to interest local, political and economic players and teach them about erosion,” Mr Menchon said.

Le Vieux Port in Marseille where the relentless of encroachment of seawater had affected vegetation. Bloomberg

The exigency couldn’t be plainer. Salt from encroaching sea water is percolating Marseille soil, putting vegetation in danger.

Mr Menchon also warned that in the process of defining its coastline the city “would have to accept losing property”.

The peroration of another French mayor, Louis Chebault, of Pleine-Fougeres in north-west France, provided the most powerful call to arms.

“Let us be responsible. Let us be forward looking. Let us be NGOs, facilitators and let us help our governors make the brave decisions needed to protect millions of inhabitants,” he said.

Updated: February 11, 2022, 9:17 AM