The impacts of rising sea level and climate change on low lying reef islands has been well researched, and has begun to make its way into environmental considerations and conversations on a world stage. However, whilst this issue is well known within the scientific realm, the layman has yet to grasp how exactly a small amount of sea level rise could impact the world, and why scientists are alarmed by the projected 1 meter rise in those levels by the turn of the century.
The argument often goes that island nations should be able to adapt to a changing climate as they have for millennia, after all, over the course of the planet’s development, it experienced several sea-level changes and the islands were able to survive – so what is so different to the issues they’re facing today?
Well, as a result of ocean acidification, coral bleaching and increases in storm events all coping mechanisms these islands have in-built to help counter changing sea levels and other such occurrences have been severely affected. The sedimentary process that is integral to island maintenance has already been impacted, and if it deteriorates further the inhabitants of these islands can expect to face additional shoreline erosion, loss of land, frequent inundations and groundwater salinity.
This is the reality facing several island nations, the loss of their homes and livelihood as well as their cultural and ancestral homeland with which they have a deep connection. Countries like the Maldives, Kiritbati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands are all already falling victim to these issues, and often times do not have the resources to cope with them.
Of course, this is a multi-faceted issue. Apart from the physical and social damage being done, this puts these countries under immense economic pressure as well, as they lose a large amount of their input from these same problems. Talks of mass immigration to other countries is a real possibility, but not one major Western nation has volunteered to help with climate change refugees displaced by sea level rise – a number quoted between 665,000 and 1.75 million by 2050.
There is however one country who has answered the call: Fiji, an island nation itself, which boasts a population of 900,000 and is the 148th economy in the world. All of this is due to the sea level rise of just 1 meter, which in turn is affected by any increase in global temperature – the key variable that is at the heart of all environmental discussions.