Research Proposal: Impact of Rising Sea Levels of Low Lying Pacific Islands

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[. . .] [online] available: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/02/150213-tuvalu-sopoaga-kench-kiribati-maldives-cyclone-marshall-islands/, p. 2.] [12: Charles W. Schmidt (2005, September). “Keeping Afloat: A Strategy for Small Island Nations.” Environmental Health Perspectives, vol. 113, no. 9, p. 606.] [13: Schmidt,p. 606.]

Not surprisingly, the populations of these threatened islands are vociferous in their criticisms of major carbon producing countries such as China and the United States and argue that not enough is being done to address climate change at present. For instance, Warne reports that, “Officials in Tuvalu, 600 miles north of Fiji, have been some of the most vocal critics of the world's large greenhouse gas emitters—industrialized nations such as the United States and China—which they accuse of not doing enough to curb emissions, contributing to the melting of ice sheets and rising seas.”[footnoteRef:14] [14: Warne, p. 3.]

While rising sea levels may appear to be an abstract threat that will only take place – if ever – in the distant future to many people, rising sea levels are a very harsh reality for many people living in these low-lying areas today. For example, Ma reports that, “The usual statistics that describe global warming's devastating effects on low=lying nations give a number that is fractional and of little consequence; or, even worse, tell of an effect so far down the line that it seems unnecessary to current discussions.”[footnoteRef:15] The situation, though, is certainly not abstract for the people currently living on the Kiribati and Marshall Islands who are already experiencing the effects of rising sea levels which destroy homes, businesses, agricultural crops and make water undrinkable.[footnoteRef:16] Some indication of the severity of the problem at present can be discerned from the pictures shown in Figures 5 and 6 below. [15: Andrew Ma (2014, Summer). “Washed Away: The Threat of Global Warming.” Harvard International Review, vol. 38, no. 1, p. 7.] [16: Remi Chauvin (2015, March 11). Climate change in the Marshall Islands and Kiribati, before and after. The Guardian. [online] available: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2015/mar/11/climate-change-in-the-marshall-islands-and-kiribati-before-and-after-interactive.]

Figure 2. Marshallese capital Majuro during high tides in 2008

Source: https://i.guim.co.uk/static/w-940/h--/q-95/sys-images/Environment/Pix/pictures/2015 /3/3/1425395550936/Kiribati-Marshall-Islands-001.jpg

Figure 3. Downtown Majuro during high tides in 2008

Source: https://i.guim.co.uk/static/w-940/h--/q-95/sys-images/Environment/Pix/pictures/2015/ 3/3/1425396085865/Kiribati-Marshall-Islands-001.jpg

Researchers at the University of Auckland in collaboration with scientists from Fiji and Australia have determined that the Maldives, Tuvalu and Kiribati are most vulnerable to rising sea levels due to their developed infrastructures, but other, less inhabited islands may “weather the storm” better and some may even grow larger as sea levels rise.[footnoteRef:17] For instance, Warne points out that, “This growing body of evidence indicates that about 80 percent of the islands have remained stable or increased in size (roughly 40 percent in each category). Only 20 percent have shown the net reduction that's widely assumed to be a typical island's fate when sea level rises. Some islands grew by as much as 14 acres in a single decade, and Tuvalu's main atoll, Funafuti—33 islands distributed around the rim of a large lagoon—has gained 75 acres of land during the past 115 years.”[footnoteRef:18] By very sharp contrast, however, while Tuvalu has numerous islands and atolls within its territory, it is still one of world’s smallest countries with just 10 square miles of dry land available for human habitation. In fact, more than 50% of the tiny nation’s population of 12,000 citizens reside on one island only (i.e., Fongafale) situated on the eastern portion of the Funafuti atoll.[footnoteRef:19] [17: Warne, p. 5.] [18: Warne, p. 6.] [19: Warne, p. 6.]

Given the abundant resources provided by the world’s seas, it is little wonder that the majority of island residents tend to congregate along low-lying coastal regions and it has been this historic practice that has contributed to the severity of the problem today. This is certainly the case with the Southern Pacific island of Nauru where the vast majority of the population lives in the low-lying coastal regions of the island. For example, Ma emphasizes that the potential for Nauru to become inundated by mid-21st century is great, and rising sea levels have already caused destruction of homes and businesses.[footnoteRef:20] In this regard, Ma points out that, “Although its highest point is 200 feet above sea level, virtually all of the Nauruan population lives along the low-lying coast due to the country's uninhabitable interior, ravaged by years of phosphate mining.”[footnoteRef:21] [20: Ma, p. 7.] [21: Ma, p. 7.]

The implications of these trends for the near future are multifaceted, complex and challenging. One of the most urgent issues that must be addressed in order to prevent truly catastrophic outcomes from rising sea levels is identifying alternative places for the 5 million people who inhabit low-lying Pacific islands, a process that is further complicated by a wide array of political constraints that have added further urgency to the situation. In this regard, Ma notes that, “Mainly, the looming diplomatic challenge of accommodating the disappearance or the uninhabitability of a nation brings with it the complications of moving entire populations to surrounding countries, requiring international agreements that account for shifting citizenship, immigration influx, and cultural changes.”[footnoteRef:22] [22: Ma, p. 8.]

In 2013, a study by Forbes determined that the Solomon Island comprised of more than 1,100 low-lying atolls is quickly “approaching extinction” due to rising sea levels and the political leaders of other islands such as the Maldives and Kiribati have begun calls for the relocation of their citizens from coastal regions to other, more inhabitable regions including other countries less threatened by rising sea levels. The threat, however, extends to all countries with low-lying coastal regions and there will be fewer places that are safe from these threats in the future to accommodate these 5 million displaced persons.

Besides the sheer logistical problems that are associated with mass movements of people, there are other legal, political and social issues that must be taken into account as well. As Ma points out, “The problem, however, of internal displacement by no means eclipses the question of the removal of an entire internationally-recognized state, as well as the additional amnesty concerns that come with the emigration of an entire population.”[footnoteRef:23] A less-discussed but still significant issue involved in the mass relocation of island populations is the loss of their unique cultural histories and traditions, an outcome that may be inevitable given the current trends in sea levels. [23: Ma, p. 8.]

In response to rising sea levels, Nauru, the Marshall Islands and other nations that are threatened have solicited assistance from the United Nation’s International Court of Justice for the future relocation of their residents. The lack of progress in this area has compelled the leadership of other low-lying Pacific nations to assume active responsibility for relocating their populations.[footnoteRef:24] For example, Ma notes that, “Kiribati has proceeded with a land deal with Fiji that will allocate areas for inhabitants required to relocate, while leaders in the Maldives have instead looked to constructing artificial islands in an attempt to slow down the natural rising of the tide and to boost tourism for the small nation.”[footnoteRef:25] Likewise, O’Rourke cites the case of Kiribati and reports, “Recently, the island nation of Kiribati, which stands only a few feet above sea level, made headlines after its president announced a plan to buy 6,000 acres of land in Fiji [but] relocation was only a ‘last resort.’" [footnoteRef:26] [24: Ma, p. 8.] [25: Ma, p. 8.] [26: O’Rourke, p. 12.]

In addition, Kiribati has considered other initiatives in response to rising sea levels, including the construction of sea walls as well as a floating island for its resident, but it lacks the resources that are needed to accomplish these gargantuan tasks.[footnoteRef:27] Similar efforts have been considered by the president of the Maldives who initiated negotiations in 2009 to purchase land from Australia, Sri Lanka or India in the event the island nation becomes uninhabitable due to rising sea levels.[footnoteRef:28] Notwithstanding the enormity of the challenges that are involved in such mass relocations of humans, the process is not unprecedented. For example, a half million people in Bangladesh were displaced due to the permanent flooding of their land by rising sea levels in 2005, becoming the first “climate refugees” to be affected by global warming.[footnoteRef:29] [27: O'Rourke, p. 13.] [28: O'Rourke, p. 13.] [29: O'Rourke, p. 13.]

Conclusion

While the current U.S. president claims that North Korea represents the biggest existential threat to the United States and its interests abroad, former President Barack Obama maintained the global warming was the most significant threat facing the country today and many scientists agree. A growing body of scientific evidence confirms that the earth’s surface temperatures are steadily increasing and some authorities caution that the residual effects of global warming will have a profound impact on the world’s population far sooner than expected. In fact, a common theme that emerged from the research was that it is not a matter of if but when rising sea levels attributable to global warming will submerge low-lying coasts regions and islands, displacing millions of people who do not have anywhere else to go at present. The research… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Impact of Rising Sea Levels of Low Lying Pacific Islands.  (2017, August 11).  Retrieved May 19, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/impact-rising-sea-levels-low-lying/2275170

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