Sunday, April 22, 2007

Carbon sink. Or swim

The recently released UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report says the following about the effect on sea level rise on "Small Islands":

"Small islands have characteristics which make them especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, sea-level rise and extreme events," the report said.

"Sea-level rise is expected to exacerbate inundation, storm surge, erosion and other coastal hazards, thus threatening vital infrastructure, settlements and facilities that support the livelihood of island communities."

The carefully-worded, bureaucratic language occludes the very real fact that it's happening already:
clipped from
That sinking feeling

In our own backyard, the people of the Carteret Islands - a tiny South Pacific atoll north-east of Papua New Guinea - are the first in the world to be evacuated due to rising sea levels.

Salt water has already destroyed their coconut palms and food gardens are in ruins. Some villages have built sea walls from clam shells in an attempt to hold back the tides. By 2015, the Carterets will disappear altogether.

Families will soon begin moving - 10 people at a time - to neighbouring Bougainville Island. Bougainville's deputy administrator Raymond Masono says this could happen as early as June.

"The feeling is very positive about moving," he says. "Right now they are realising that [in] 20 years' time they will not have any choice so they prefer to face [moving], than face the extreme circumstances of the future.

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Google Maps: Carteret Islands. Here is a Wikipedia entry that explores additional reasons for the Carteret catastrophe.

They are not the only small island communities to be worried. The current Australian Government has studiously ignored the calls for help from the people of the Tuvalu Islands. Luckily for them, our Kiwi cousins show a lot more compassion and a resettlement plan is underway. Two uninhabited Kiribati islands are under water and salinity has killed all the coconut palms on a third island. They have also approached New Zealand for help, apparently not even bothering with Australia. Why would they? Our Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, had this to say in response to the calls last year from France for a dedicated UN body to deal with the 200 million environmental refugees by 2050 that has been predicted by experts:

"A bit premature," he said at the time.

He's right of course. We clearly need a new government before shouldering any sort of responsible approach to climate change and its attendant upheavals. Elections are in November.

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