Millimetres Turning Into Centimetres For Pacific Islanders

No, it’s not a miracle of engineering – it’s sea level rise.

An article by InterPress Service outlines the increasing concerns of the people living on small Pacific Islands, as the next world COP summit on emissions prepares to convene in Durban.

Climate change is already a stark reality for the islanders. “Traditional knowledge about winds, seasons, rain patterns, the time at which mangroves can be crossed and what kind of clouds to look out for have become unreliable for the population, due to developments induced by climate change,” the article reports, highlighting the need for the Islanders to adapt.

But they may not have long to do so. “Samoa’s coastlines, for example, have eroded from a few to 80 meters, and people have relocated inland where territory is already partitioned.”

“High tides are frequent and continue to wash away our shorelines,” said Council of Elders member Ursula Rakova, about the 2,700 families living on the Carteret islands, 86 kilometres away form Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) main island Bougainville.

“Our biggest concern is that one fine day, a king tide will simply sweep over the islands and most or all people will be washed away without any trace,” she told IPS.

Recently, one of the islands was divided in half by rising waters.

ACT is part of the UWO-led research project, Coastal Cities At Risk, which will examine climate impacts for Manila, Lagos, Bangkok and Vancouver.

We are also planning our eighth session, on Population Displacement, for 2013.


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  1. Jennifer Doherty says:

    Hello, This is such an excellent article,

    So if an island nation is submerged beneath the ocean, does it maintain its membership in the United Nations? Who is responsible for the citizens? Do they travel on its passport? Who claims and enforces offshore mineral and fishing rights in waters around a submerged nation? International law currently has no answers to such questions.

    United Nations Ambassador Phillip Muller of the Marshall Islands said there is no sense of urgency to find not only those answers, but also to address the causes of climate change, which many believe to be responsible for rising ocean levels.

    “Even if we reach a legal agreement sometime soon, which I don’t think we will, the major players are not in the process,” Muller said.

    Those players, the participants said, include industrial nations such as the United States and China that emit the most carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases. Many climate scientists say those gases are responsible for global warming. Mary-Elena Carr of Columbia University’s Earth Institute said what is now an annual sea level rise of a few millimeters will increase dramatically by the year 2100. “The biggest challenge is to preserve their nationality without a territory,” said Bogumil Terminski from the University of Geneva. International legal experts are discovering climate change law, and the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu is a case in point: The Polynesian archipelago is doomed to disappear beneath the ocean. Now lawyers are asking what sort of rights citizens have when their homeland no longer exists.
    t present, however, there appear to be at least three possibilities that could advance the international debate about ‘climate refugee’ protections and fill existing gaps in international law.

    The first option is to revise the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees to include climate (or environmental) refugees and to offer legal protections similar to those for refugees fleeing political persecution. A second, more ambitious option is to negotiate a completely new convention, one that would try to guarantee specific rights and protections to climate or environmental ‘refugees`.

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