When people think about the most devastating potential impacts of climate change, rising sea level is probably the first thing that comes to mind. And for good reason. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) global sea level has been rising at about 2mm per year for the better part of the last century. The IPCC projects sea level will rise about another 30 to 40cm by the end of the century, however the latest research is making these projections look overly optimistic. It is estimated that nearly one-quarter of the world’s population lives within 100km of the coast less than 100m above sea level, making sea-level rise a global concern.
Small Island States will be among the worst hit by rising sea level for obvious reasons. A larger percentage of their populations live near the coast and their small economies are usually highly dependent on activities centered around the ocean. Rising sea level causes many problems for Small Island States, which include:
- Displacement of large percentages of the population, which causes stress for not only the displaced, but also for the receiving communities;
- Flooding and coastal erosion, which destroys vital infrastructure;
- Saltwater inundation of agricultural land, which threatens food security and forces island farmers to switch to more salt-tolerant crops;
- Saltwater intrusion into vital ground water supplies, which threatens water security and decreases the availability of fresh water for drinking, sanitation, and irrigation; and
- Amplification of damage from intense storms due to the weakening of natural barriers.
Many Small Island States are already feeling the impact. Much of the land area of Tuvalu’s nine islands is regularly inundated by rising tides every year, internally displacing many people, contaminating meager groundwater supplies, and forcing residents to grow more salt-tolerant subsistence crops. The Maldives recently attracted media attention when its president announced that the country would be setting aside funds from its tourism industry to purchase a new homeland should the need arise. And it was reported that portions of the Solomon Islands are nearly uninhabitable due to flooding, requiring the evacuation of many families to Papua New Guinea. | more