BORDEAUX: Some territories and countries will not remain the same as we know them today, this time not because of conflicts, wars or political reasons but because of climate change.
It is not often that countries disappear off the map, but global warming has increased this probability. NASA’s earth observatory declared that in October 2018 the powerful hurricane Walaka eradicated an island in the Hawaiian chain. The ‘East Island’, located about 885 km north-west of Honolulu is uninhabited but is a great ecological treasure. The disappearance of this island is strictly linked to the rise of sea level.
National Geographic declared that the sea level have risen over 23 cm (9 inches) since 1880, with approximately 8 cm of this total since 1994. According to NASA’s satellite data observations, on average, sea level is rising approximately by 3.3 cm each decade and scientists predict that this rise will accelerate in the coming years.
Climate change is the main cause of this sea level rise due to the thermal expansion of the Oceans, the melting of the glaciers and the loss of ice sheets. The rapid rise make islands particularly vulnerable, and put them at the jeopardy of disappearance.
Travelers might be disappointed to hear that the tropical paradises of Seychelles and the Maldives are particularly in danger. Both islands, located in the Indian Ocean, are great touristic attractions, especially for honeymooners or those who are seeking a relaxing vacation.
Seychelles has already been facing consequences of climate change. The coral reefs, which once protected the islands from erosions, have been damaged by increasing ocean temperatures. Moreover, a rise of sea level by 90 cm would submerge the country and leave more than 95,000 inhabitants with no place to go.
Similarly, the low lying Maldives islands which sits on an average of 128 cm above sea level is susceptible to the impacts of sea level rise which reduces the area that is suitable for habitation. The country is at risk of vanishing as rising tides are already causing the displacement of locals.
Islands and territories are facing similar risks such as the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Fiji, Comoros, Kiribati, Tonga, Palau and Tuvalu. Scientists believe that these islands would be at risk of facing yearly flooding events if not completely disappear within decades if no proper actions are taken.
The situation goes way far beyond the inability of travelers to visit these places and raises the question of environmental refugees. Following extreme environmental events, locals will be forced to migrate, leave their homelands temporarily or permanently and seek refuge in safer places.
From 2008 to 2014, almost 160 million people were displaced because of environmental events such as heavy storms, floods, wildfires, drought and extreme temperatures. The UN predicts this number will reach 250 million climate refugees by 2050. Consequently, the international Organization for Migration, composed of 173 member states, has recommended policymakers to take appropriate and proactive measures on the matter.
Additionally, susceptible countries are trying to adapt their territories to these changes using a variety of tools. As a case in point, the Maldivian former president was seeking to purchase new lands to relocate its population, however, the new government decided to develop geoengineering projects to protect their citizens and resist those changes instead.
Climate change is a real threat, and its ramifications go far beyond direct environmental impacts. Island countries are a great example showing how this global issue have repercussions on entire societies and nations.
Reem Khamis graduated from the Lebanese American University with a bachelor of Architecture and earned her Master's degree in Environmental and Energy Management at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. Her thesis focuses on urban resilience and climate change adaptation in megacities using a comparative approach of Cairo, London, and New York.
Khamis is currently undergoing her Ph.D. studies in Environmental and Energy Solutions at the University of Pau and Pays de L'Adour in France, focusing on climate change adaptation in medium-sized European cities.
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