Rising Seas Pushing Island Nations to the Brink
“What we are seeing at this moment is that the negotiations on climate change are not going far enough, are not going fast enough, and in the meantime some of us are going to be confronted with the end of history.” — Antonio Lima, Cape Verde’s ambassador to the United Nations
Rising sea levels caused by global warming could displace millions of people worldwide who are living on low-lying coastlines, and it may prove fatal to some small island nations. At a recent conference at Columbia Law School, legal experts explored the implications for the people whose homelands could become uninhabitable within a matter of decades.
The oceans have been expanding with the steady rise in global temperatures over the past century or more. Melting glaciers and ice sheets near the poles are adding to the problem, and sea levels are now rising an average of more than 3 mm a year. If the melting of huge ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica accelerates, the situation will get much worse for the many islands that sit just a few meters above sea level.
As their lands become inundated and eventually uninhabitable, where will the people go? Who will take them in, and what rights will they be able to hold onto? Will they be able to maintain their sovereignty without terra firma? Should they hold onto fishing and maritime rights in the waters around what used to be their home? Should the developed world be held to account for its role in global climate change?
The conversation continued for three days at the Columbia Law School, in a conference presented by the Columbia Center for Climate Change Law and the Republic of the Marshall Islands and co-sponsored by the Earth Institute, among other organizations. You can listen to the discussions on videos at the conference web site, here.