Rising seas may force millions to become climate refugees.

by Lester Brown: President of the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute

(Insights into the World on December 3, 2001- The Daily Yomiuri )

It is said that September 11, 2001 was the day that changed America.
But international opinion has changed as well as America since this day.
Before terror, not only America that declared to drop the Kyoto Protocol on March 28, 2001 but also irresolute Japan had been criticized.
America has indicated some countries as rogue nations, but low-lying island countries have seen America as the same.
We suppose that industrial countries are likely to be indicated as rogue nations in the near future by them.
Finally, let's introduce a proverb, "Their own knavery will pay them home at length."

The leaders of Tuvalu - a tiny island country in the western Pacific Ocean midway between Hawaii and Australia - have conceded defeat in their battle with the rising sea, announcing that they will abandon their homeland.
After being rebuffed by Australia, the Tuvaluans asked New Zealand to accept its 11,000 citizens.

The Pacific nation of Tuvalu has secured New Zealand's agreement to accept an annual quota of its citizens as refugees. (by BBC NEWS)
"New Zealand responded positively in the true Pacific way of helping one's neighbors, Australia on the other hand has slammed the door in our face," said Paani Laupepa, Tuvalu official.

During the twentieth century, the sea level rose by 20 to 30 centimeters.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects that it will rise by up to a meter this century.
The seas are rising because of the melting of glaciers and the thermal expansion of the ocean as a result of climate change.
This in turn is due to rising atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, largely from burning fossil fuels.

As sea level has risen, Tuvalu has experienced lowland flooding.
Salt-water intrusion is adversely affecting its drinking water and food production.
Coastal erosion is eating away at the nine islands that make up the country.

The higher temperatures that are raising the level of the seas also lead to more destructive storms.
Higher surface water temperatures in the tropics and subtropics mean more energy radiating into the atmosphere to drive storm systems.
Paani Laupepa, a Tuvaluan government official, reported an unusually high level of tropical cyclones during the past decade. (Tropical cyclones are called hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean.)

Laupepa is bitterly critical of the United States for abandoning the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement to reduce carbon emissions. (see also the Christian Science Monitor)
He told a BBC reporter that "by refusing to ratify the protocol, the United States has effectively denied future generations of Tuvaluans their fundamental freedom to live where our ancestors have lived for thousands of years."

For the leaders of island countries, this is not a new issue.
In October 1987, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, president of the Maldives, noted in an impassioned address to the U.N.
General Assembly that his country was threatened by the rising sea level.
In his words, his country of 311,000 people was "an endangered nation."
With most of its 1,196 tiny islands barely two meters above sea level, the Maldives' survival would be in jeopardy with even a one-meter rise in sea level in the event of a storm surge.

Tuvalu is the first country where people are being forced to evacuate because of rising seas, but it almost certainly will not be the last.
It is seeking a home for 11,000 people (above annotation), but what about the 311,000 who may be forced to leave the Maldives?
Who will accept them?
Or the millions of others living in low-lying countries who may soon join the flow of climate refugees?
Will the United Nations be forced to develop a climatic-immigrant quota system, allocating the refugees among countries according to the size of their population?
Or will the allocation be according to the contribution of individual countries to the climate change that caused the displacement?

Feeling threatened by the climate change over which they have little control, the island countries have organized into an Alliance of Small Island States, a group formed in 1990 specifically to lobby on behalf of these countries vulnerable to climate change.

In addition to island nations, low-lying coastal countries are also threatened by the rising sea level.
In 2000 the World Bank published a map showing that a one-meter rise in sea level would inundate half of Bangladesh's rice-growing land.
With a rise in sea level of up to one meter forecast for this century, Bangladeshis would be forced to migrate not by the thousands but by the millions.
In a country with 134 million people - already one of the most densely populated on Earth - this would be a traumatic experience.
Where will these climatic refugees go?

Rice-growing river floodplains in other Asian countries would also be affected, including China, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.
With a one-meter rise in sea level, more than a third of Shanghai would be under water.
For China as a whole, 70 million people would be vulnerable to a 100-year storm surge.

The most easily measured effect of rising sea level is the inundation of coastal areas.
Donald Boesch, with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, estimates that for each millimeter rise in sea level, the shoreline retreats an average of 1.5 meters.
Thus if sea level rises by one meter, coastlines will retreat by 1,500 meters.

With such a rise, the United States would lose 36,000 square kilometers of land - with the middle Atlantic and Mississippi Gulf states losing the most. Large portions of Lower Manhattan and the Capitol Mall in Washington would be flooded with seawater during a 50-year storm surge.

A team at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has calculated Massachusetts's loss of land to the rising sea as warming progresses.
Using the rather modest U.S. Environmental Protection Agency projections of sea level rise by 2025, they calculated that Massachusetts would lose from 3,035 to 4,047 hectares of land.
Based on just the lower estimate and a nominal land value of $1 million per 0.4 hectare for ocean-front property, this would amount to a loss of at least $7.5 billion of particularly expensive property by then.
Some of the 72 coastal communities included in the study would lose far more land than others.
Nantucket could lose over 2.4 hectares and Falmouth 1.5 hectares a year.

Coastal real estate prices are likely to be one of the first economic indicators to reflect the rise in sea level.
Those with heavy investments in beachfront properties will suffer most.
A half -meter rise in. sea level in the United States could bring losses ranging from $20 billion to $150 billion.
Beachfront properties, much like nuclear power plants, are becoming uninsurable - as many homeowners in Florida have discovered.

Many developing countries already coping with population growth and intense competition for living space and cropland now face the prospect of rising sea level and substantial land losses.
Some of those most directly affected have contributed the least to the buildup in atmospheric carbon dioxide that is causing this problem.

While Americans are facing loss of valuable beachfront properties, low-lying island peoples are facing something far more serious: the loss of their nationhood.
They feel terrorized by U.S. energy policy, viewing the United States as a rogue nation, indifferent to their plight and unwilling to cooperate with the international community to implement the Kyoto Protocol.

For the first time since civilization began, the sea level has begun to rise at a measurable rate.
It has become an indicator to watch, a trend that could force a human migration of almost unimaginable dimensions.
It also raises questions about responsibility to other nations and to future generations that humanity has never before faced.

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