Maldives officials say a global agreement to dramatically reduce carbon emissions is needed to save the country from rising sea levels, but they are not optimistic next week's U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark will deliver the required regulations.  

The people of Maldives say the sea brings life to their country, but scientists say it could, one day, take it away.

The nation, which is made up of more than a thousand small islands in the Indian Ocean, is the lowest lying in the world, with an average ground level of just 1.5 meters above water.  If current global warming trends continue, experts predict the country could be completely submerged by rising sea levels in about a century's time.

Assistant Director at the Maldives Environment Protection Agency, Ibrahim Mohamed, says warning signs are beginning to surface.

"We have been receiving reports of island erosion since 2005," said Mohamed.  "We have about 80 percent of the inhabited islands reporting coastal erosion."

Maldives leaders hope the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen will help reverse the trend.

Thousands of delegates from nearly 200 countries will take part in the event that begins Monday.  Their aim is to construct an agreement for controlling greenhouse gas emissions that lead to rising temperatures.

Maldives Vice President Mohammed Waheed Hassan says participants will be in a position to save his country.

"We wish that they would come up with a legally binding treaty with levels of emission that would save Maldives," said Hassan.  "This is our wish.  Do we expect this to happen?  We are not sure.  We have a feeling that we may not be able to achieve this now."

Like Waheed, most world leaders have given up hope a legal agreement imposing tough carbon caps can be reached in Copenhagen.  Instead, they say a politically binding pact with specific commitments by countries is more realistic.

A major point of contention in reaching an accord is deciding on how to balance the responsibilities of developed and developing countries.

For years, industrialized nations have enjoyed modern comforts while polluting the atmosphere, and it has been agreed that they should be held more accountable for reducing the world's CO2 levels. 

Meanwhile, the two largest countries, China and India, are becoming more developed and Beijing argues its emissions requirements should be more lax as it tries to catch up with the West.

Others disagree, they say if China and India are allowed to have reduced regulations, global climate change would accelerate at a significantly quicker pace.

As the debate continues, Maldives waits on the sidelines.  Vice President Waheed says the nation has looked into buying land in other countries in case its citizens are eventually forced to move abroad, but he says the world must take action before that happens.

"We have a right to survive like everybody else," he said.  "Nobody who lives somewhere else in the world has the right to decide for us what our future is going to be.  And that is why it is so unjust."

A Malé resident, 16-year-old Aminath Abdul Bari, says she does not know what to expect for the future, but says the situation she and her compatriots are in is not fair.

"We are simple Maldivians.  We are not damaging the world, we are not damaging our nation, but because of some things the so-called super powers like the USA, like Russia, like China do, we are suffering and they need to think about it," said Bari.  "They need to consider that there are little people who need their help right now.  We need them to stop their actions."

Tuesday, the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research announced melting ice on the continent could add to rising global sea levels.  It is believed waters could climb by 1.4 meters by 2100 unless measures to reduce pollution are taken.

In an effort to make sure the prediction does not turn into a reality, Maldives has pledged to become the world's first carbon-neutral nation.  President Mohamed Nasheed is to reinforce that promise when he leads the country's delegation in Copenhagen.