Small island states under threat

Milan Ilnyckyj in helmet and sunglasses

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.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

19 thoughts on “Small island states under threat”

  1. Islands: A climate-change canary

    Research indicates low-lying islands may already be fighting warming oceans

    By Dan Ray, For the Camera
    Friday, April 6, 2007

    CORRECTION (4/6/07): In this story it was reported that the multi-island nation of Vanuatu has brought a lawsuit against the U.S. and Australia regarding their carbon emissions. But although the country considered such a lawsuit, none was ever brought forward. Tuvalu considered the idea more seriously, but the lawsuit was eventually dropped after the Tuvaluan Prime Minister who was advocating the lawsuit lost an election.

  2. “In 2005, the New Guinean government authorized the total evacuation of the Carteret Islands off the nation’s eastern coast because of repeated flooding. Last month, the Pacific island-nation of Tuvalu became one of the first countries to relocate some of its citizens because of rising sea levels. Three thousand of the island’s 11,000 inhabitants were evacuated, with small odds of returning.

    Vanuatu, a nation comprised of 83 islands in the South Pacific Ocean, is attempting to bring a lawsuit against the United States and Australia for releasing greenhouse gases, which may be driving the loss of agricultural lands to the ocean, Kelman said. The nation has already relocated about 100 of its villagers to higher ground.”

  3. Surviving Climate Change in Small Islands – A guidebook

    October 2005

    The most signifi cant and immediate consequences of climate change are:
    * Increase in air temperature
    * Increase in sea surface temperature
    * Increase in sea level
    * Changes in rainfall (precipitation)
    * More extreme weather conditions

    A rising sea surface temperature is likely to exacerbate existing problems of coral bleaching as corals exist in a narrow range of sea temperatures and they are very sensitive to temperature change. Coral reefs negatively affected by bleaching could also suffer from reduced calcification rates due to higher carbon dioxide (CO2) absorption into seawater. Mangroves, sea grass beds, other coastal ecosystems and the associated biodiversity are also likely to be adversely affected by rising temperatures and accelerated sea-level rise. For those islands that rely on marine tourism and fisheries the consequences for society are significant. Without healthy reefs the diving industry is likely to suffer and the productivity of local fisheries is likely to be severely affected.

    A change in the acidity of the oceans. Carbon dioxide is absorbed by the oceans and can increase the acidity of the water. As atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide increase, so does oceanic absorption. This could have a variety of effects. For example, as the acidity changes this could have an impact on coral life and reef fish,
    potentially threatening their survival. Consequently, the abundance of reef fish, those who earn their livelihoods from reef fisheries and those who rely on the fisheries as a significant food source are likely to be affected.

    Sea-level rise. The projected sea-level rise of 2 to 9mm per year will increase rates of coastal erosion and loss of land. For those societies which have developed around the coastal zone of their island (this is the case in almost all small island states) this will lead to loss of infrastructure and property, potential dislocation of people, increased risk from storm surges, reduced resilience of coastal ecosystems and possible saltwater intrusion into freshwater resources. The danger of soil salinisation, coupled with the existing limited area of arable land makes agriculture, both for domestic food production and cash crop exports, highly vulnerable to climate change.

  4. Cool photo. I am glad to see the one licking you took hasn’t been keeping you off your bike.

  5. Clinton unveils sweeping climate, energy proposals

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton released a broad energy and climate change agenda today during a campaign stop in Iowa that promises a 180 degree swing from Bush administration policies.

    As president, Clinton said the “fundamental cornerstone” of her global warming platform is aimed at returning U.S. heat-trapping emission levels to 1990 levels by 2020. Long-term, she promises to reduce U.S. emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 — a target largely in line with scientific recommendations.

    Echoing her Democratic rivals, the New York senator said her domestic climate plan would include a market-based, cap-and-trade system to curb emissions. She would require utilities and other companies to obtain 100 percent of their allowances through an auction, with the proceeds going toward energy efficiency, renewable technologies and tax cuts for middle-class Americans and energy-intensive industries.

    Internationally, Clinton vowed to host high-level meetings every three months with the goal of reaching a new climate agreement with China, India and the rest of the world by 2010 — two years before the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol.

    Clinton said inaction on climate change could put the U.S. economy in jeopardy. And the former First Lady sought to turn the traditional climate debate around on opponents by emphasizing the job-creation benefits in her plan.

    “I believe America is ready to take action, to break the bonds of the old energy economy, to prove that the climate crisis is one of the great economic opportunities in the history of our country,” Clinton said. “Seizing it will unleash a wave of innovation, create millions of new jobs, enhance our security, and lead the world in a revolution in how we produce and use energy. It can literally be a new beginning for the 21st century.”

    Clinton outlined her global warming plan while visiting a wind turbine manufacturer in Cedar Rapids. It comes almost a year to the day before voters elect President Bush’s successor.

    In several national polls, Clinton holds a commanding 20 percent lead over Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and she also leads in theoretical head-to-head matchups against the leading Republican candidates.

    Clinton proposes tough CAFE, renewable mandates

    Clinton also includes a federal renewable energy standard of 25 percent by 2025 and more than doubling of the corporate average fuel economy standards for motor vehicles.

    A Hillary Clinton administration would require all new coal plants to be capable of adding carbon capture and storage technology “when it becomes commercially available.” She would phase out traditional incandescent light bulbs by 2012.

    And to address nuclear power, Clinton said she would “terminate work at the flawed Yucca Mountain site” and instead convene a scientific panel to find alternatives for waste disposal.

    Clinton would also set highly aggressive targets for both vehicle efficiency and biofuels — outlining goals that are on the outer edges of those embraced by advocates in both areas.

    On vehicle efficiency, the senator called for increasing the fleet-wide standard to 55 miles per gallon by the year 2030 — far beyond the levels that the auto industry considers achievable. And she would set an intermediate target of 40 miles per gallon by 2020, also above the levels currently being considered on Capitol Hill.

    Automakers would get help under a Clinton administration in meeting the fuel economy targets through a new program that gives out $20 billion in “Green Vehicle Bonds.” With the funds, automakers could retool older plants to build the more efficient vehicles. They also would get tax credits to help address the industry’s retiree health legacy costs.

    Additionally, Clinton proposed $2 billion for the development of plug-in hybrid technology, offering consumers a $10,000 tax credit for the purchase of plug-in vehicles and adding 100,000 of the vehicles to the federal government’s fleet by 2015.

    To spur biofuels, Clinton called for increasing U.S. consumption mandates to 36 billion gallons per year by 2022 — the same target as in a Senate energy bill. But she would then jump it to 60 billion gallons by 2030. An increasing amount of that mandate would be met with cellulosic fuels and she would provide loan guarantees for the first 2 billions gallons of cellulosic production, according to the plan.

    Clinton also reiterated her plan to create a $50 billion Strategic Energy Fund — paid for by the elimination of oil industry tax breaks and drilling royalties — that would be used for research initiatives in biofuels as well as energy efficiency, clean coal technology and other alternatives.

    ‘She’s upped the ante’

    Global warming has become a regular topic of debate on the presidential campaign trail as the candidates meet a public increasingly open to discussing the topic. Over the last few months, several candidates have proposed similarly aggressive U.S. limits on greenhouse gas emissions compared with Clinton, including Obama, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

    Roger Stephenson, project director at the New Hampshire-based Carbon Coalition, said Clinton’s agenda helps keep the spotlight on the issues. “It looks like she’s upped the ante on the other candidates,” he said.

    But Clinton also faces a big test in the coming weeks as an active member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Perhaps as early as next week, Clinton will vote on a compromise climate bill drafted by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.) that does not push as far as her presidential agenda.

    Friends of the Earth Action, which endorsed Edwards for the Democratic nomination, issued a statement today highlighting Clinton’s conundrum.

    “The standards Senator Clinton announced today are flatly inconsistent with Lieberman-Warner,” said Brent Blackwelder, president of the group. “We call on her to show leadership by opposing this bill in its current form and demanding better.”

    If Clinton voted against the Lieberman-Warner bill, its sponsors would need to find another supporter among a list of Republicans who traditionally don’t support mandatory limits on greenhouse gases across the economy.

  6. The parched country

    Oct 25th 2007 | COLUMBIA
    From The Economist print edition
    America’s south-east has been wracked by more than a year without much rain

    AFTER 18 months of sunny skies and scorching heat, crops are shrivelling, lawns are crisping and lakes are drying up. This is not scorched California or America’s arid south-west, but its normally lush south-east. The Department of Agriculture’s “drought monitor” says that 32% of the region is in “exceptional drought,” the most severe designation and one expected on this scale only once or twice a century. The problem is exacerbated by the south-east’s inexperience with lack of rain, and by the area’s booming population.

  7. Rate of global average sea level rise has risen from 1.8mm/yr to 3.1mm/yr from 1961 to 1993

    The reasons for sea level rise has been due to thermal expansion, melting glaciers & ice caps and the polar ice sheets

    Projected sea level rise at the end of the 21st Century will be 18-59 cm

    From the IPCC 4AR SPM

  8. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change proposes a maximum sea level rise of 81cm (32in) this century.

    But in the journal Nature Geoscience, researchers say the true maximum could be about twice that: 163cm (64in).

  9. Summertime melting of the Greenland ice sheet has been increasing over the last 34 years and was most extreme in 2007, finds new research.

    Thomas Mote from the University of Georgia in the US monitored melting of the Greenland ice sheet from 1973 until 2007 by detecting changes in microwave radiation measured by satellites. Comparing the extent of melt to seasonal averages, he found that melting during June, July and August significantly increased over the past 34 years. This trend was related to increasing air temperatures observed at three coastal Greenland stations. But in 2007 there was 60% greater melting than in 1998, the previous highest-melt year — more than expected from the temperature trend alone. This may be the accumulated effect of increased melting over the prior four years, because, for instance, more heat is absorbed by the Earth’s surface when it is snow-free.

    This latest study is an important step towards understanding how rapidly the Greenland ice sheet is vanishing, which has important implications for global sea-level rise.

  10. With just one meter of sea-level rise, the U.S. will be physically under siege, with calamitous and destabilizing consequences

    The U.S. is a nation with over 12,000 miles of coastline. With 53 percent of Americans living in and around coastal cities and towns, it is important to understand, and convincingly communicate, the devastating impact climate-induced sea-level rise will have on our nation. A recent study of over 90 U.S. coastal cities and towns, presented vividly in three-dimensional images, illustrates that once the process of ice sheet disintegration begins, the impact on the U.S. will be unremitting, and at each additional increment above one meter, additional cities and towns will be adversely affected.

  11. More ominous tipping points loom. West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are vulnerable to even small additional warming. These two-mile-thick behemoths respond slowly at first, but if disintegration gets well underway it will become unstoppable. Debate among scientists is only about how much sea level would rise by a given date. In my opinion, if emissions follow a business-as-usual scenario, sea level rise of at least two meters is likely this century. Hundreds of millions of people would become refugees. No stable shoreline would be reestablished in any time frame that humanity can conceive.

    The disturbing conclusion, documented in a paper I have written with several of the world’s leading climate experts, is that the safe level of atmospheric carbon dioxide is no more than 350ppm (parts per million) and it may be less. Carbon dioxide amount is already 385ppm and rising about 2ppm per year. Stunning corollary: the oft-stated goal to keep global warming less than 2C (3.6F) is a recipe for global disaster, not salvation.

  12. Ice Age lesson predicts a faster rise in sea level

    If the lessons being learned by scientists about the demise of the last great North American ice sheet are correct, estimates of global sea level rise from a melting Greenland ice sheet may be seriously underestimated. Writing this week (Aug. 31) in the journal Nature Geoscience, a team of researchers led by University of Wisconsin-Madison geologist Anders Carlson reports that sea level rise from greenhouse-induced warming of the Greenland ice sheet could be double or triple current estimates over the next century.

    “We’re not talking about something catastrophic, but we could see a much bigger response in terms of sea level from the Greenland ice sheet over the next 100 years than what is currently predicted,” says Carlson, a UW-Madison professor of geology and geophysics. Carlson worked with an international team of researchers, including Allegra LeGrande from the NASA Center for Climate Systems at Columbia University, and colleagues at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the California Institute of Technology, University of British Columbia and University of New Hampshire.

    Scientists have yet to agree on how much melting of the Greenland ice sheet — a terrestrial ice mass encompassing 1.7 million square kilometers — will contribute to changes in sea level. One reason, Carlson explains, is that in recorded history there is no precedent for the influence of climate change on a massive ice sheet.

  13. Maldives to miss climate summit

    The president of the Maldives has said that, even though his country is under threat from climate change, he cannot afford to go to a summit on the issue.

    President Mohamed Nasheed said his nation would only go to the December talks in Copenhagen if someone offered to pay for the trip.

    He said the Maldives needed to be defended from the effects of global warming and rising sea levels.

    But he added that the country would have to do much of the work itself.

  14. Maldives leader in climate change stunt

    By Olivia Lang
    The Maldives

    With fish darting amongst them in a blue lagoon, the Maldivian president and his top team have staged an elaborate stunt to publicise climate change.

    Billed as the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting, President Mohamed Nasheed and 11 ministers, decked in scuba gear, held a meeting 4m (13ft) underwater.

    While officials said the event itself was light-hearted, the idea is to focus on the plight of the Maldives, where rising sea levels threaten to make the nation uninhabitable by the end of the century.

    Mr Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected president, has become an important global voice for climate change since he won in polls last October.

  15. Even if humankind manages to limit global warming to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommends, future generations will have to deal with sea levels 12 to 22 meters (40 to 70 feet) higher than at present, according to research published in the journal Geology. The researchers, led by Kenneth G. Miller, professor of earth and planetary sciences in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University, reached their conclusion by studying rock and soil cores in Virginia, Eniwetok Atoll in the Pacific and New Zealand. They looked at the late Pliocene epoch, 2.7 million to 3.2 million years ago, the last time the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere was at its current level, and atmospheric temperatures were 2 degrees C higher than they are now.

    “The difference in water volume released is the equivalent of melting the entire Greenland and West Antarctic Ice Sheets, as well as some of the marine margin of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet,” said H. Richard Lane, program director of the National Science Foundation’s Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the work. “Such a rise of the modern oceans would swamp the world’s coasts and affect as much as 70 percent of the world’s population.”

    “You don’t need to sell your beach real estate yet, because melting of these large ice sheets will take from centuries to a few thousand years,” Miller said. “The current trajectory for the 21st century global rise of sea level is 2 to 3 feet (0.8 to1 meter) due to warming of the oceans, partial melting of mountain glaciers, and partial melting of Greenland and Antarctica.”

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