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Scientists: Rising Seas Pose Serious Threat for Island Nations

  • Solenn Honorine

Small island nations and coastal states are on the frontlines of global warming: as temperatures and sea levels rise, some countries could be lost entirely. Scientists and politicians have gathered in the Indonesian city of Manado for the World Ocean Conference to discuss ways to reduce the damage from climate change.

Life and death issue

For the inhabitants of small islands, climate change may be a matter of life or death. Rolph Payet, an advisor to the president of the Seychelles, says that in his country, rising sea levels will be catastrophic.

"In the Seychelles for example we have 90 percent of the people who live on the coastline. This is where all the infrastructure is, where the housing are, all the communication, shipping, the airport is there. So it's as if you have to start the whole community from scratch, and that's going to cost a lot of money. We're always the ones losing out, and it's always the same people winning," said Payet.

What role do seas play in global warming?

Scientists and government officials from around the world are meeting this week in Manado, Indonesia, at the World Ocean Conference. They hope to work together to better understand the role of the seas in global warming, and reducing its effects.

For small island nations, the problem is called the climate divide. Rich countries emit the most greenhouse gases, which are thought to contribute to global warming. But it is mostly poor, developing countries that will pay the heaviest cost of global warming.

Dessima Williams, president of an association that represents 44 small island nations, says that rich countries should not turn a blind eye to their fate.

"We are on the frontline, as small island states, we are going to get the brunt of it first .... But everybody is getting some of it. So we are not taking a high moral ground, we are simply taking a practical position that is: 'we are first [to suffer from global warming], but yours is coming. So you address ours, you reduce yours.' It's common sense," said Williams.

Environmental refugees could be huge concern


Rolph Payet says that the world should be wary of the creation of millions of potential "environmental refugees" - people who will have to flee as the seas rise above their homes.

"Climate change will have a huge impact on world security," said Payet. "I mean, you can just imagine: most of the world's cities and capital are built along the coast! So what we're dealing with today in Iran or Afghanistan may be peanuts compared with what will happen from a great mobilization and a great migration of thousands of people who live by the coast."

Small island nations are asking that stricter carbon emission caps be in the agreement that will replace the Kyoto protocol on climate change. But it is not clear that larger nations will agree to cut enough to slow global warming. They hope to find common ground in December in Copenhagen where the world will discuss the future policies on climate.

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