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The Maldives Facing Environmental Disaster

Looming Environmental DisasterThe rise in sea levels, caused by global warming is causing environmental stress in many coastal regions, and none more so than the Maldives. The seriousness of the environmental threat to the Maldives was underlined in an article in the UK Daily Telegraph, titled "Rising Sea Levels Could Spark Conflict", by Bonnie Malkin on January 8, 2009 which stated, "In November, the newly elected president of the Maldives announced his country would begin to set aside a portion of its billion-dollar annual tourist revenue to buy a new homeland because rising seas were threatening to turn the 300,000 islanders into environmental refugees."

Environmental Problems of Rising Sea Levels

One of the more insidious effects of climate change is the rise in sea levels. Although at the moment largely ignored because of its gradual nature, this sea level rise will have devastating environmental effects.

In Sea Level Rise: What Does the Future Hold, published by The Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre in November 2007, the author Dr. J. Hunter states, "Today, sea level is rising by as much as 0.3 metres per century and this rate may increase further still over the next hundred years".Chapter 5 of Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis, by Nathaniel Bindoff and published by the Cambridge University Press predicts, "Sea level is projected to rise at an even greater rate in this century. The two major causes of global sea level rise are thermal expansion of the oceans (water expands as it warms) and the loss of land-based ice due to increased melting".Predicted sea level rises may in fact be underestimated. In a paper entitled "Recent Climate Observations Compared to Projections", by Stefan Rahmstorf, published in Volume 316 of Science in May 2007, it states, "Overall, these observational data underscore the concerns about global climate change. Previous projections, as summarized by IPCC, have not exaggerated but may in some respects even have underestimated the change, in particular for sea level".Maldives Facing Environmental Disaster

Because of their low lying nature the Maldives, once considered tropical paradise islands, could be facing environmental extinction.

The Human Development Report 2007/2008 by Kevin Watkins, published by United Nations Development Programme in 2007 emphasizes the danger when it says, "For the Maldives, where 80 percent of the land area is less than 1 metre above sea level, even the most benign climate change scenarios point to deep vulnerabilities".As far back as 1998, the environmental predicament of the Maldives was recognized. In The Regional Impacts of Climate Change by Robert Watson, published by Cambridge University Press in 1998, the author states, "The fragility of these low islands and their sensitivity to sea-level change and storms suggest that the future existence of such islands and their cultural diversity could be seriously threatened". He goes on to state that the rise in sea levels could, "convert many islands in the Maldives to sandbars and significantly reduce available dry land on larger, more heavily populated islands".Although sea level rise may be gradual, for the Maldives time could be running out. In The World Summit on Sustainable Development, published by Springer Science & Business in 2005, the authors Luc Hens and Bhaskar Nath predict, "That with a maximum height above mean sea level of less than 1 m, potential sea-level rise of even a few centimetres will have tremendous impact on these low-lying islands, culminating in total inundation. Moreover, this is expected to occur in the very near future (2025)".For many people in the developed world trying to deal with the economic downturn, the Kyoto Protocol and the growth of global carbon dioxide emissions are just distant background concepts to be argued over by scientists and international bodies. For the people of the Maldives, lowering greenhouse gas emissions could be a matter of their very survival.