November 10, 2008 4:17 PM
Five nations under threat from climate change
"The first line of coconut trees has disappeared" - Kiribati inhabitant
While the world dithers about tackling climate change, in some parts
of the world people are running out of time. In Florida sea level
rises can be worked around to some extent - condos can be put on
stilts and moved away from the shoreline. But on some islands you can
only move back so far before you have to start worrying about the
water at your back door as well as the water in front.
Here are five islands whose inhabitants are going to need a new home soon:
1. The Guardian reports today that the new president of the Maldives
will be putting part of the country's profits from tourism into a very
special - and unusual - fund: one that will be used to buy a new,
climate-change-friendly home. With its highest point reaching only 2.4
metres, the Maldives is one of the lowest-lying nations in the world
and risks being submerged by rising sea-levels.
2. Tuvalu is another small pacific island state, and after the
Maldives the second-lowest nation in the world. At its highest, it is
5 metres above sea-level and could be gone by the middle of this
century. In 2002, the government was said to have hired two
international law firms to look into suing polluting nations for
effectively evicting its citizens.
3. Kiribati is a group of 32 atols and one island that peaks at 6.5
metres above sea-level. The World Bank has been involved in assessing
the nation's vulnerability to climate change. I attended a talk by one
of the project leaders some years ago in Paris. She quoted a few of
the changes which the islanders were noticing. The one that has always
stuck with me was "the first line of coconut trees has disappeared".
Salt-intrusion was killing off the trees that were closest to the
4. The inhabitants of the Carteret Islands of Papua New Guinea may be
among the first climate refugees - their home lies just 1.2 metres
above the waves. The government of Papua New Guinea adopted a plan in
2005 to evacuate the locals to the neighbouring island of
Bougainville. The relocation was initially scheduled for 2007, then
delayed. According to this report, there was a trial earlier this
year, which created some tension as relocated citizens were used as
labourers in coconut plantations on Bougainville.
5. In 1995, 500,000 inhabitants on Bangladesh's Bhola Island were
forced to move in when half their island was permanently flooded. Some
claim they were the first climate refugees. Scientists predict that 20
million Bangladeshis could suffer the same fate by 2030.
Catherine Brahic, environment reporter
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