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Small Islands

Cold comfort for islanders

Angus Friday's picture

Nero fiddled while Rome burnt. The band played while the Titanic sank. And today, it could be said that a cacophony of international climate voices muse in discord, while the sea level rises. These were my thoughts when colleagues and I received the news of the latest report by Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP), the scientific arm of the eight-nation Arctic Council, asserting that sea-level rise could reach 1.5 metres by 2100. This is from the executive summary of their report while the full version is awaited. It is a sharp contrast to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC’s) 0.58 metres in its worst case scenario.  This latest warning from the Arctic Council must now serve as a new score, with an urgent tempo, with which to conduct, orchestrate and harmonize international efforts towards rapid action on climate change.

The IPCC’s 2007 findings on sea level rise in its fourth assessment report was an important milestone helping to mobilize political momentum and to build a robust international process around the climate challenge. But at the time, as related to us in a recent presentation byDr. Robert Bindschadler, Emeritus Scientist on Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, ice sheet dynamics were not accounted for in these projections. 

In the tropics, far away from the polar ice caps, the difference between “accounted for” and “not accounted for” is not merely a margin of error in a report. For the 41 million people living on the 43 island nations that girdle the planet, it is a matter of survival. With this new information, low-lying coral atolls in the Indian and the Pacific Oceans are facing a real and present danger of sovereign extinction. Caribbean islands face inundation with storm surges heightened by more intense hurricanes due to sea temperature rise.