What can really be said about climate change and small island states? Working Group I of the IPCC projects that global sea levels will rise by 0.12 – 0.22m by 2100 not taking into account the melting of Greenland and Antarctica. With those elements factored in, a sea level rise of 1m certainly seems possible and it becomes conceivable that rises of several metres will occur if either of those icesheets goes the way of the polar icecap.
So what happens to the really low-lying states like the Maldives? The combination of coastal erosion, sea level rise, increased vulnerability to storm surges, and contamination of freshwater aquifers may well make them simply non-viable as places that can support a population. Nauru, Vanuatu, and Tuvalu face the same vulnerabilities – just to choose a few from among many examples.
A number of more substantial islands could be seriously threatened by the aquifer issue. Malta is suffering a double effect: rising sea levels threatening freshwater aquifers and decreased rainfall further increasing their salinity. In 2007, it doubled from 2000 to 4000 microsiemens and it is now too salty to water trees with. Fossil fuel based desalinators are being installed to help address water shortages: though they will increase Maltese GHG emissions.
All told, there isn’t much that can be hopefully said about low lying areas. Like the Arctic, these areas will certainly experience significant effects from climate change. The questions that remain are how serious and sudden it will be.