Rising Sea Level Threatens Very Existence of Island Nations

Rising sea levels threaten island nations

The just released IPCC report cautioned that the world has nearly run out of time to stave off the worst effects of climate change, island nations are emphasizing their unique vulnerability. The Alliance of Small Island States -- an alliance of 39 coastal and low-lying nations including Singapore, Seychelles, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Dominican Republic, Cuba, the Bahamas, and Belize -- put out a statement that said the climate crisis threatens their very existence.

"We have to turn this around … that is our very future, right there," said Diann Black-Layne, the lead negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States in a statement responding to the IPCC report's findings.

Why This Matters

While the biggest contributors to climate change are large, rich nations, like the US and China, smaller nations experience its most devastating effects and have the fewest resources to adapt to emerging threats.

For example, sea level rise of just 3 feet could put as much as two-thirds of Kiribati underwater by the end of this century, according to the IPCC. The island nation has made plans to physically raise its islands above the sea, in partnership with China.

"It's really clear how unfair climate change is," Kimberly Nicholas, a professor and climate and sustainability expert at Lund University in Sweden, told NBC News. "It's primarily caused by burning fossil fuels, and it's a few countries and individuals within countries who burned the majority of it and enjoyed the benefits they provided."

UN: Kiribati - Battling for Survival (Rising Sea Levels), November 7, 2020.

Threatening "Our Very Future"

The first part of the IPCC's Sixth Assessment Report said the world is set to warm to 1.5 degrees Celsius around 2030, a decade earlier than predicted three years ago. Many leaders from island nations are speaking out against this state of affairs.

Mohamed Nasheed, president of the Maldives, one of the world's lowest-lying countries, tweeted:

This report is devastating news for the most climate-vulnerable countries like the Maldives. It confirms we are on the edge of extinction. Climate emergency is intensifying, we are on the front lines. Our nations are already battered by extreme climate.

Already 80% of the 1,190 Maldives islands are just a meter above sea level, thus accelerated sea level rise is literally an existential threat for the nation's 540,000 citizens. Island nations are desperately trying to plan for their future existence, experimenting with ideas like floating cities. Yet if the world's biggest consumers of fossil fuels don't drastically curb their emissions and lead the rest of the world in decarbonization, they'll bear the responsibility for the destruction of small island nations.

The alliance of island nations echoed this sentiment:

The stark fact is that if we keep warming to 1.5C we are still facing half a meter of sea level rise. But if we stop warming from reaching 2C, we can avoid a long term three meters of sea level rise.

France 24: Maldives - On the climate front line, May 7, 2021.