Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 18th 2015 Contents B36
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Thursday, June 18, 2015
The Maldives are one of a handful of nations that could disappear completely. PHOTO: WIKIPEDIA
As the seaplane lifts off the
water s surface and begins to climb,
paradise opens up beneath us.
The deep blue ocean stretches in
every direction, but it is punctuated
here and there by aquamarine discs
of shallow coral reef that give way
to the slightest slivers of white sand.
Lavish hotels clinging to those
oases sprout tentacles of bungalows,
extending their small stake of pre-
cious solid ground.
People come from all over the
world to experience the impeccable
luxury of the Maldives, a nation
composed of around 1,200 islands,
located 370 miles off the southern-
most tip of India.
Despite its remoteness, the resorts
here---each located on its own private
Guests can sip US$40 glasses of
Champagne at freshwater pools
swim-up bars, dine on Russian caviar
and Wagyu steak, and stream the
latest episode of Game of Thrones
in their air-conditioned suite.
Nothing is lacking, nothing is out
Yet amid all this, a sinking real-
isation constantly undermines the
islands carefully manicured perfec-
tion. It s the knowledge that all of
this may soon be gone.
The nation, with its low-lying
islands, has been labelled the most
at-risk country in South Asia from
the impact of climate change.
Even if the swooning honeymoon-
ers do not allow this thought to mar
their vacation, for the ever-smiling
staff members, it s harder to ignore.
"Of course I m concerned about
climate change, about the reef, the
environment and pollution," says
Mansoor, a Maldivian who works at
one of the resorts. "But what can I
do? I don t know."
Climate change threatens water-
front developments and seaside cities
around the world, but for some, the
stakes are higher than simply having
to move a few miles inland, or even
having to relinquish large cities like
Miami, Amsterdam and Shanghai.
For the citizens of around six to
10 island nations, climate change
could rob them of their entire coun-
While it s impossible to know pre-
cisely what will happen in the
future---and it s worth pointing out
that some research suggests a few
island states might not be doomed
by rising sea levels---many scientists
fear that, no matter what mitigations
we make, we ve already condemned
some countries to a physical disap-
Even if we switched off all emis-
sions now, we probably already have
enough climate change-causing
greenhouse gas emissions to result
in another foot or two of sea level
rise in the coming years.
"It might be that no amount of
technology will allow us to prevent
inundation of some low-lying island
nations," says Michael Mann, a
renowned meteorologist at Pennsyl-
vania State University. "That s a
reminder of what I like to call the
procrastination penalty, of certain
tipping points that we ve physically
and societally crossed."
If we somehow managed to cap
our man-made temperature rise at
just 1.5C above pre-industrial lev-
els---as island nations have called
for---most of them could remain
But most other nations, especially
more developed ones, seem more
comfortable considering a global
temperature rise 2C or even 3C above
"The Pacific island states have
been leading the pack in terms of
alerting the planet Earth to the fact
that these small islands, which pro-
duce almost zero greenhouse gas
emissions, are sitting on the front-
lines of climate change," says Jose
Riera, a special advisor at the UN.
At this point, however, that sce-
nario seems nearly unavoidable, forc-
ing the question of what will tran-
spire when the losses begin to unfold.
While nations have been absorbed
by other nations or split off to form
new ones in the past, never before
has a country literally disappeared.
As such, there is no legal, cultural
or economic precedent for what hap-
pens to a group of nationals who no
longer have a physical home.
"A new concept of citizenship will
have to be developed internationally,"
says Michael Gerrard, director of the
Sabin Center for Climate Change
Law at Columbia Law School. "I
have confidence that island nations
will still be states throughout this
century, but the next one is another
question, with many uncertainties."
Those uncertainties bring up many
questions, he says. Does the sub-
merged nation still have a seat at
Does it have an exclusive economic
zone, and therefore the right to con-
trol fishing and mineral exploitation
in its waters?
Where will its people go? What
will their citizenship be? And do
they have any legal rights against
greenhouse gas emitters or nations?
These questions will be further
complicated by the political and
environmental landscape of the not-
By the time island nations begin
to actually disappear, Gerrard says,
the world at large will be in crisis
mode, with massive displacements
occurring in low lying areas such as
Bangladesh, the Nile Delta, the
Mekong Delta and many other
places. As such, the legal and logis-
tical problems of small island states
will not likely be a top global pri-
Gerrard fears that the current sit-
uation in Syria and parts of Africa,
in which hundreds of thousands of
Can climate change cause
nations to disappear?
Continues on Page B39
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