Course:CONS200/2021/The Disappearance of Small Sea-level Countries due to Climate Change

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Small, low lying countries and communities, traditions and cultures, wildlife and resources are at risk of disappearance in the next few years due to sea level increases caused by climate change. These countries are a part of the SID (Small Island Developing States) which will be the first to suffer due to climate change as stated by UNFCCC in their paper on climate change. Anticipated climate-related changes include: an accelerated rise in sea level of up to 0.6 m or more by 2100; a further rise in sea surface temperatures by up to 3°C; an intensification of tropical and extratropical cyclones; larger extreme waves and storm surges; altered precipitation/run-off; and ocean acidification [1].

Although small island developing States are among the least responsible of all nations for climate change, they are likely to suffer strongly from its adverse effects and could in some cases even become uninhabitable (UNFCCC, 2005).These territories include areas from the Maldives, to Venice, the Caribbean, and small remote areas in the Eastern hemisphere. The Netherlands built dikes to stop the sea level from imposing upon their land, but will building high rises and skyscrapers or bedrocks or hard soils be enough to deal with the increasing threat of climate change? Should we be focusing on prevention or is the situation inevitable at this point that we plan for the aftermath? What are the leaders and the policy makers of these countries doing to fight climate change?

Impact of climate change on SID’s (Small Island Developing States)

Images from Wikimedia Commons can be embedded easily.

Small countries have to deal with climate change consequences such as rising sea levels, more frequent and intensive extreme weather events like heat waves, heavy precipitation, floods or droughts, increasing water scarcity and others. On top of these concerns some of these small countries and coastal areas could lead to extinction. Between 2006 and 2015, the worldwide mean water level in the ocean rose at a pace of 0.14 inches (3.6 millimetres) per year, which was 2.5 times the average rate of 0.06 inches (1.4 millimetres) per year for much of the twentieth century. Even if greenhouse gas emissions remain relatively low in the following decades, global mean sea level is anticipated to rise at least one foot (0.3 metres) over 2000 levels by the end of the century.[2] The developing world accounts for two thirds of the world’s carbon emission. These underdeveloped small nations will be suffering due to climate change in which they had little role to play as climate change is largely caused by big, developed nations while these small areas become collateral damage.

Half of the world’s beaches could disappear by the end of this century as a result of climate change-induced coastal erosion and rising seas. Extreme occurrences, such as hurricanes, make coasts very susceptible, imposing significant costs on coastal populations. Tropical cyclones affect roughly 120 million people annually, killing 250,000 individuals between 1980 and 2000 [1] The loss of beaches has important cultural and economic implications for countries, but there are also ecological concerns. Beaches are like the last barrier that protects inland areas from storms because they absorb energy from waves. Furthermore, these beaches and small nations also host organisms that contribute to an ecosystem's biodiversity. With the loss of these areas comes the loss of culture, tradition and many species of flora and fauna.

Loss of Biodiversity - Survival of the Swimmers

Islands are defined as "lands isolated by surrounding sea and having a high proportion of coast to hinterland" by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment; they must be populated, distant from the mainland by at least two kilometres, and measure between 0.15 square kilometres and the size of Greenland (2.2 million square kilometres).Species become island dwellers either by drifting on islands, like castaways, as they break far from larger landmasses (in the case of continental islands) or by dispersing across the ocean to islands recently emerged from the seabed (oceanic islands). Henceforward they're confined to small, isolated areas settled a long way from alternative large landmasses. Over time, this isolation exerts distinctive organic process forces that lead to the event of a definite genetic reservoir and also the emergence of extremely specialized species with entirely new characteristics and the prevalence of bizarre adaptations, admire gigantism, dwarfism, flightlessness, and loss of dispersibility and defense mechanisms.  Indicating that the biodiversity in that isolated region is very unique.

However, global warming-induced sea level rise may be devastating to island environments, which retain around 20% of the world’s biodiversity. The species found on a lot of these islands are not found anywhere else on Earth, for instance, the Galapagos Islands. The rising sea levels could prompt the submersion of exceptionally huge extents of numerous islands with low height. By and large, ocean level ascent might prompt their all out submersion, clearing out totally independent environments and their inhabitants [3]. As nothing has been proposed to save these species from sinking to extinction, are we relying on evolution, so these species adapt and learn to swim?

Can these countries and cities still be saved?- Is it too late?

The Maldives is a coastal area, at high risk of encroachment from the rising oceans.

Many low lying countries around the world are in danger of rising sea levels and therefore, the imposition of the rising ocean into cities and inhabited areas. Oceanfront residential areas and parking lots are frequently flooding in Miami, making the news on occasion. Flooding like this can result in financial assets such as aquifers, tourist destinations, malls, and properties. With increasing global populations, more people are at risk of being impacted by the sea level rise. Climate change could affect more US residents in the state of Florida than any other state, due to its extensive tropical and coastal nature. They also receive the brunt of the hurricanes during hurricane season, which only gets worse with climate change. By making cities more resilient and adapting them to the changes occurring, some areas will still no longer be habitable places. One of the most viable solutions to this issue (and the one with the lowest costs) is migration to other higher grounds. This solution is more prevalent in smaller tropical nations, who can’t afford to construct flood mitigation strategies.

A lot of countries and cities are adopting mitigation strategies to prevent rising water levels from affecting day-to-day life. Many areas are adopting environmental approaches such as restoring or building wetlands and maintaining mangroves to absorb the water. The different strategies being adopted by various flood prone areas are quite interesting. Various affection regions are all taking different steps to handle this situation, to prevent deep trouble. Stormwater pump and drainage systems (already in use in Los Angeles) help keep water off the roads and out of the city near creeks. This system can be quite costly, moving water from residential or industrial areas and back to the sea, however it is highly effective. Los Angeles currently has 62 of these systems in use, along with their other flood mitigation strategies such as levees, 21 low flow diversion sites, 2,800 miles of storm water drainage systems, and 14 flood control dams and reservoirs [4].

According to Joove Stronkhorst, The Netherlands and Portugal have both implemented beach nourishment strategies, helping reduce flood threats as the sand reduces the impact of storms and rising sea levels [5]. However, the sand isn’t being held in place, so by adding vegetation, there would be more protection from erosion. Instead, the sand is replenished every five years, inflating the cost of this initiative. Between 1980-2011, Los Angeles spent $67 million on beach nourishment project[4]. Los Angeles has also recently begun the conversation of raising the roadways by two feet, and have already raised piers, docks, marinas and other coastal services by two feet  due to the higher water levels.[4] Los Angeles wastewater treatment facilities sit dangerously close to the sea level, needing to be raised to protect the environment from the consequences of salt water intrusion and flooding [4]. Burst septic tanks and the health hazard that comes with it can be detrimental to the environment. Many at-risk areas can still be saved by taking proactive approaches to the future problems of flooding and higher sea levels, but it won’t be cheap.

Mitigation Strategies to Fight the Tide

Different countries are taking different approaches to the climate change effects on coastal communities and high-risk areas. The economic standing of different countries can affect which options are available to them to mitigate the ocean rise. For example, the Netherlands is a high-income country (HIC) and a developed country. As one of the richest nations in the EU, they have many options available to them in terms of protecting their land from the ocean. They have built dykes, submerged barriers, pumps, and gates to keep the water out[5]. With currently a quarter of their land below sea level, and a protective network with thousands of kilometers of dykes, the Netherlands has become a role model for other threatened nations.

As stated by Julian Hunt and Edward Byers, areas incapable of implementing mitigation strategies will be forced to recede further inland, abandon properties, and evacuate permanently, which will result in social, economic, and environmental losses [6]. The most important mitigation goal is to reduce and cap all carbon emissions to the absolute minimum to reduce global warming and glacial melting. Hunt and Byers suggest that building submerged barriers and dams in front of Greenland ice sheets can reduce the amount of melting and prevent the sea level rise at a rapid pace [6]. According to Hunt and Byers, the main driving cause of melting ice shelves in Greenland is the warmer salt water in contact with the fresh frozen water. The restriction of flowing salt water will reduce the amount of ice shelf melting by preventing access to undermine the glacier[6]. Although 10 of these barriers may cost around $68.9 billion USD, it is wildly more cost effective to use this strategy instead of adapting to the sea level all together [6]. Some alternate mitigation strategies have been using more permeable materials for residential and commercial streets and walkways etcetera. By allowing the water to penetrate and absorb, we forgo the issue of water in the streets, unless the volume of water is too much for the soil and the groundwater has reached its capacity. However, this can be an excellent option, as well as planting more vegetation to absorb water and reduce erosional risks. Green roofs, water retention basins, infiltration trenches, rainwater harvesting, and bioretention[7] are all natural ways to help mitigate excess water from increased storm frequency, but they won't be particularly useful with rising sea levels. However, beach nourishment, planting salt tolerant vegetation (such as mangrove forests where applicable).

What does the future hold for these parts of the world?

The future for many parts of this world looks bleak. A lot of small sea-level countries are overlooked and forgotten about if they do not have much tourist attraction which accounts for many of these small countries. Often, they are poorer countries that are not equipped to protect themselves from the rising sea levels. This is the case for a small country called Tuvalu[8]. This small group of islands is often used as an example of the effects of climate change and sea-level rise that many organizations will use to prove to doubtful governments about the effects of climate change. In this process, the situation in Tuvalu is getting much worse while the surrounding countries stand by [9]. By this time, it may be too late to save these small sea-level countries, but they will serve as an example of what is coming for the more developed countries if they do not act soon by putting mitigation strategies in place[8]. Many of these SID’s are trying to raise awareness about these issues through the media as journalists rarely cover these issues.

Even if the world was able to cut its carbon emissions over the next century the world would warm at a more manageable rate. Sea levels would still rise about 30-60cm or 1-2 feet which would be in general manageable for rich countries, but this would still impose a large risk for poorer SID’s[10]. This is the best-case scenario if we look at the trajectory we are currently going on with our global carbon emissions continuing to rise. The projected sea-level rise in the next century could be anywhere from 4-8 feet. This would be disastrous for these small island countries because of the flooding and destruction of habitat this would cause. It would cause a major climate refugee crisis and most of the population of these islands would have to be displaced[11]. These predictions are in the case that no mitigation strategies are in place.

In the future, it is predicted that there will be a rise in extreme weather in these areas such as hurricanes and typhoons, due to climate change, which are already starting to happen. These storm surges will bring lots of flooding to these islands and the destruction of homes and businesses. Without mitigation strategies in place, these events alone will be disastrous let alone adding rising sea levels to the mix[12].

Climate change refugees

Climate change = more climate refugees. -Melbourneclimatestrike IMG 5187 (48765007057).jpg

The definition of climate refugees given by Heather Lazrus in the Annual Review of Anthropology, 2012 is: “climate refugees"— an adaptation of "environmental refugees" that refers to those who flee environmental crises in their homeland”. The concept of climate change refugees is becoming more and more prevalent in this day in age. It is estimated that around 20 million people a year are displaced because of climate disasters[9]. By the year 2050, it is also predicted that the number of climate refugees will greatly surpass the number of traditional refugees[13]. With the rising sea levels, island countries and communities are at the highest risk because of their low altitudes. There are many questions to be asked when thinking of climate refugees. “Will islands become uninhabitable as a result of the effects of climate change? Where and when will people go? How will relocation be financed? Who should make relocation decisions? How will the cadre[3] of citizenship rights be configured for people relocated across national borders? How will cultural continuity and integrity be impacted?”[12]. These questions will become more and more important for islanders and scientists specializing in this field to figure out in the coming years and will be critical for the people that live on these islands.

There are more concerns than just sea level rising that may force these islanders to flee their homeland. The issue of a lack of fresh water is a big concern caused by climate change. This is happening due to increasing droughts and increasing amounts of tropical cyclones and hurricanes [14]. Freshwater can already be difficult to find in these areas of the world. Lots of these communities cannot afford desalination plants as they can be extremely expensive, so they mostly rely on underground renewable water supply. The underground water comes mostly from rain sinking into the earth and with continued droughts, these mines may run dry. Additionally, with the increasing number of severe storms occurring, the infrastructure for water collection is suffering. This can result in leaving communities without water for prolonged periods.

There is growing stigmatization of refugees in the world. Many government parties promise in campaign speeches that they will heavily limit the number of refugees being let into their countries. Lots of these promises benefit their parties and sometimes lead to their success in triumph. This is very troubling in this day in age when the future seems to hold a growing amount of need for new homes for refugees. Governments need to take action in either helping with mitigation and adaptation strategies for these communities or be more open to relocation on their land.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Nicholls, R.J., P.P. Wong, V.R. Burkett, J.O. Codignotto, J.E. Hay, R.F. McLean, S. Ragoonaden and C.D. Woodroffe (2007). "Coastal systems and low-lying areas. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, M.L. Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden and C.E. Hanson, Eds., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK" (PDF). pp. 315–356.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. Lindsey, Rebecca (August 14, 2020). "Climate Change: Global Sea Level".
  3. 3.0 3.1 Pensoft Publishers (2013, November 13). [ "Island biodiversity in danger of total submersion with climate change. ScienceDaily"] Check |url= value (help). Check date values in: |date= (help)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Aerts, Jeroen C. J. H., Barnard, P. L., Botzen, W., Grifman, P., Hart, J. F., De Moel, H., Mann, A. N., de Ruig, L. T., & Sadrpour, N (2018). "Pathways to resilience: adapting to sea level rise in Los Angeles. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1427(1)". pp. 1–90.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Stronkhorst, J., Huisman, B., Giardino, A., Santinelli, G., & Santos, F. D (2018). "Sand nourishment strategies to mitigate coastal erosion and sea level rise at the coasts of Holland (The Netherlands) and Aveiro (Portugal) in the 21st century. Ocean & Coastal Management". pp. 156, 266–276.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Hunt & Bryers (2019). "Reducing sea level rise with submerged barriers and dams in Greenland. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change".
  7. Vojinovic, Z (2020). "Nature-based solutions for flood mitigation and coastal resilience".
  8. 8.0 8.1 Farbotko, C (2010). "Wishful Sinking: Disappearing islands, climate refugees and cosmopolitan experimentation". Asia Pacific Viewpoint. 51: 47–60 – via Wiley Online Library. line feed character in |title= at position 74 (help)
  9. 9.0 9.1 Burch, E (2020). "A Sea Change for Climate Refugees in the South Pacific: How Social Media – Not Journalism – Tells Their Real Story". Environmental Communication. 15: 250–263 – via Taylor and Francis Online.
  10. Oppenheimer, M (2015). "Adapting to Climate Change: Rising Sea Levels, Limiting Risks". Social Research. 82: 673–680 – via JSTOR.
  11. Armstrong, A. K., Krasny, M. E., & Schuldt, J. P. (2018). "CLIMATE CHANGE SCIENCE: The Facts. In Communicating Climate Change: A Guide for Educators". Cornell University Press.: 7–20 – via JSTOR.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. 12.0 12.1 Lazrus, H (2012). "Sea Change: Island Communities and Climate Change". Annual Review of Anthropology. 41: 285–301 – via JSTOR.
  13. Docherty, B., & Giannini, T. (06/22/2009). "Confronting a rising tide: A proposal for a convention on climate change refugees". Harvard Environmental Law Review. Check date values in: |date= (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  14. Campbell, J.R (2014). "Climate-Change Migration in the Pacific". The Contemporary Pacific. 26: 1–28 – via JSTOR.


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