Island nations show climate leadership in the face of rising seas

  • Published on July 7th, 2018

With so much at stake as seas rise and our climate changes, island nations and communities around the world are showing their larger and wealthier neighbors what it means to take your destiny into your own hands. Maybe it’s because the threat of climate change is so clear. Maybe it’s just the resourcefulness that comes with living in a small place. But whatever the reason, island nations and communities are increasingly showing their larger and wealthier neighbors what smart, creative, and brass-tacks practical responses to the climate crisis look like.

By The Climate Reality Project.

Maybe it’s time for the rest of the world to take note.

Seas Are Rising

For many living on low-lying atoll nations, the threat of a warming world couldn’t be any closer to home. Because for many, it’s just outside their door, in the shape of seas creeping higher and higher up the shore.

The science of why isn’t, well, rocket science.

It starts with the fact that burning fossil fuels mean temperatures keep climbing, with 16 of the 17 hottest years on record coming this century.

These rising air temperatures – coupled with oceans growing warmer – has consequences for the land ice in the colder parts of the world, melting ice and sending much of it into the sea.

The results are right in front of us. For example, the Arctic just had its warmest winter on record and land-based ice sheets – like the one covering Greenland – are melting at faster rates.

With all this ice melting and much making its way to the oceans, seas are now rising about 3mm every year. While that might not seem like much, remember, that’s every year. And if your house is just a few feet from the water’s edge, that’s a cause for rising concern.

Islands Respond

For island nations and communities, those small numbers add up to a big, big threat. Seas climbing up shores swallow both homes and the farms entire communities rely on. What’s more, the saltwater can spoil the freshwater sources many living further inland use for everyday drinking, washing and bathing.

Of course, this isn’t just a danger for island communities. Approximately 40 percent of the world’s population lives within 100km (60 miles) of a coastline. Plus, coastal megacities from Shanghai to Mumbai to Osaka are right in the crosshairs when it comes to rising seas, with millions and millions at risk.

With this existential threat so clear, island nations and communities are increasingly taking their own destiny in their hands and becoming laboratories for climate action in a range of smart and brass tacks practical ways. Ways that challenge those of us in much bigger or wealthier countries to get active too.

Kiribati: Seizing the World’s Attention with Dancing

Before the 2016 Rio Olympics, few outside Kiribati knew how climate change was threatening the beautiful chain of Pacific Islands. Olympic weightlifter David Katoatau set out to change that with a dance that called the world’s attention to the rising seas threatening to swallow his home, inspiring a new generation of Kiribati activists to call out to the world.

Tilos, Greece: A History of Going First

Out in the wind-swept Aegean Sea, the Greek island of Tilos has never been afraid to go its own way. From hosting Greece’s first gay wedding to welcoming modern-day refugees, the history of the island is a story of bravery and boldness in action. Now, the island is working toward adding another milestone to that list as the first Greek island to go 100 percent renewable.

Sumba, Indonesia: Fossil-Free Development

Home to some 755,000 residents, Sumba has launched the Sumba Iconic Island initiative to create a new model for islands on the path to development. But rather than rely on dirty imported diesel as so many of its neighbors in Indonesia have done, Sumba is working to reach 100 percent renewable status by 2025.

Understanding how we can solve the climate crisis around the world starts with understanding what’s happening.

Originally published on The Climate Reality Project.

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