Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Sea level rise in Tuvalu

The news from Tuvalu is not good. A set of small islands in the distant South Pacific ocean, about as far from Scotland as it is possible to get on the surface of the earth are now at critical risk. Why? Because of a life threatening drought that has been added to the combination of a rising and warming sea which together are making life on these small islands inhospitable.

Why should this be of concern to us in Scotland with all the problems we have to worry about here? There are after all less than 12,000 people living on the islands of Tuvalu and there are others closer to hand, like New Zealand who can help out. I think the reason is a bit like the story of the canary in the coal mine. What is happening in Tuvalu is a wake up call to all of us.

When the climate changes and sea levels rise low lying places will be hit hardest and among the first to suffer are the atoll islands of the South Pacific. The reasons are not difficult to see when the highest point in the Tuvalu archipelago is less than five metres above sea level. A rising and warming sea, both caused by global warming, and a climate that appears to becoming drier spell trouble. The protective coral is bleached by warmer water and if damaged then the risk of storm damage increases; the islands’ limited supply of fresh water is reduced; ground water becomes more saline and a traditional way of life becomes more difficult.

The Church in Tuvalu, the Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu has been warning of the risks for some time but now the risk has become a crisis due to a prolonged drought that has endured for months. I can do no better than quote from a message sent to us by the Rev. Tafue Lusama, General Secretary of the Church in Tuvalu a few days ago:

"… for the past 5 to 6 months there has been no rain at all, and that caused shortage of water, trees are dead, traditional plantations are all dead, land is so dry that even the crabs cannot survive.

"This is the worst experience of a drought we have ever faced in history.
Because even our underground water is salinated and is no longer viable for any use."

They have brought in desalination machines, but even that does not assist the land and the plantations for they only give out enough water for drinking and cooking for a family a day.

Tafue asks us to remember the people of Tuvalu in our prayers, which we will do. He is gracious in his plea for help and does not point the finger of accusation against those us who may be causing the misery that they must endure. But we can read in the experience of the people of Tuvalu the slow and inexorable pressure that makes the land less hospitable and the earth and sea less sustaining. Where Tuvalu is now suffering others will follow, and as the impact of climate change spreads many more will experience conditions that challenge life and wellbeing. In our own worries about the economy and our own prosperity we must find time to remember these distant islands and the warning call they make to all of us.

1 comment:

  1. While the Earth has always endured natural climate change variability, we are now facing the possibility of irreversible climate change in the near future. The increase of greenhouse gases in the Earth?s atmosphere from industrial processes has enhanced the natural greenhouse effect. This in turn has accentuated the greenhouse ?trap? effect, causing greenhouse gases to form a blanket around the Earth, inhibiting the sun?s heat from leaving the outer atmosphere. This increase of greenhouse gases is causing an additional warming of the Earth?s surface and atmosphere. A direct consequence of this is sea-level rise expansion, which is primarily due to the thermal expansion of oceans (water expands when heated), inducing the melting of ice sheets as global surface temperature increases.
    Forecasts for climate change by the 2,000 scientists on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) project a rise in the global average surface temperature by 1.4 to 5.8°C from 1990 to 2100. This will result in a global mean sea level rise by an average of 5 mm per year over the next 100 years. Consequently, human-induced climate change will have ?deleterious effects? on ecosystems, socio-economic systems and human welfare.
    At the moment, especially high risks associated with the rise of the oceans are having a particular impact on the two archipelagic states of Western Polynesia: Tuvalu and Kiribati. According to UN forecasts, they may be completely inundated by the rising waters of the Pacific by 2050.
    According to the vast majority of scientific investigations, warming waters and the melting of polar and high-elevation ice worldwide will steadily raise sea levels. This will likely drive people off islands first by spoiling the fresh groundwater, which will kill most land plants and leave no potable water for humans and their livestock. Low-lying island states like Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands and the Maldives are the most prominent nations threatened in this way.
    “The biggest challenge is to preserve their nationality without a territory,” said Bogumil Terminski from Geneva. Rosemary Rayfuse from the University of New South Wales argued that “a solution to the ‘disappearing state’ dilemma is suggested through adoption of a positive rule freezing baselines and through recognition of the category of ‘deterritorialised state’. It is concluded that the articulation of new rules of international law may be needed to provide stability, certainty and a future to disappearing states”.


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