A man looks out to sea in October 2008 in Male, the capital of the Maldives, which is among a number of island nations that the United Nations says could become uninhabitable by 2100.

If rising seas cover the Maldives and Tuvalu, will these countries be wiped off the map? And what happens to their citizens?


There is no perspective science fiction as global warming gathers pace, creating an unprecedented challenge for the international community and threatening entire peoples with the loss of their land and identity.

“This is the biggest tragedy that a people, a country, a nation can face,” Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives, told AFP.

According to UN climate experts, sea levels have already risen 15 to 25 cm (six to 10 inches) since 1900, and the rate of rise is accelerating, especially in some tropical areas.

If warming trends continue, ocean levels could rise nearly an additional meter (39 inches) around islands in the Pacific and Indian oceans by the end of the century.

This is still below the highest point of the smallest, flattest island states, but rising sea levels will be accompanied by an increase in storms and tidal waves: salt pollution of water and land will make many atolls uninhabitable long before they are covered by sea.

According to a study cited by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, five countries (Maldives, Tuvalu, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Kiribati) could become uninhabitable by 2100, creating 600,000 stateless climate refugees.

Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed, pictured in October 2019, says the loss of land and identity is

Former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed, pictured in October 2019, says the loss of land and identity is “the greatest tragedy a people, a country, a nation can face”

“Legal Fiction”

This is an unprecedented situation. States, of course, were wiped off the world map by wars. But “we have not had a situation where existing states completely lost territory due to a physical event or events such as sea ​​level riseor severe weather events,” noted Sumudu Atapattu of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

But the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, a reference on the subject, is clear: a state consists of a defined territory, a permanent population, a government, and the ability to interact with other states. So when the territory is absorbed, or no one can live on what is left of it, at least one of the criteria falls.

“The other thing I argue is that statehood is a fiction, a legal fiction that we have created for the purposes of international law. So we have to be able to come up with another fiction that covers these deterritorialized states,” Atapatu added.

That’s the idea behind the Rising Nations initiative, launched in September by several Pacific governments: “to convince UN members to recognize our nation even when we’re underwater because it’s our identity,” Tuvalu’s prime minister. , Kauseo Nathan, explained to AFP.

Tepuka Island is part of the island nation of Tuvalu, which some fear could be overtaken by rising sea levels and destroyed by m

Tepuka is part of the island nation of Tuvalu, which some fear could be swept away by rising sea levels and disappear from the map.

Some people are already thinking about how these nation-states 2.0 might work.

“You can have land in one place, people in another place and government in a third place,” Kamal Amakran, managing director of Columbia University’s Center for Global Climate Mobility, told AFP.

This would first require a UN “political declaration”, then a “treaty” between the threatened state and the “host state” willing to host the government-in-exile in the form of a permanent embassy. The population, which could be in this state or even in another, would have dual citizenship.

Amakran, a former UN official, also points to the ambiguity of the Montevideo Convention: “When you talk about territory, is it dry or wet territory?”

People are “so brilliant”

With 33 islands spread over 3.5 million square kilometers (1.3 million square miles) in the Pacific Ocean, Kiribati, tiny in land area, has one of the largest exclusive economic zones (EEZs) in the world.

Addressing the UN General Assembly in September 2022, Tuvalu's Prime Minister Kaussoa Nathana hopes his country will continue

Addressing the UN General Assembly in September 2022, Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Kaussoa Nathana said he hoped his country would be recognized “even if we go underwater”.

If this maritime sovereignty had been preserved, the state would not have disappeared, according to some experts.

While some islets are already being swallowed up as coastlines recede, freezing the EEZ would preserve access to vital resources.

In an August 2021 declaration, members of the Pacific Islands Forum, including Australia and New Zealand, announced that their maritime zones “continue to apply without reduction notwithstanding any physical changes connected to climate change– related sea ​​level get up.”

Areas threatened by sea level rise

Percentage of people living in areas likely to be inundated by sea level rise after 2100.

But even with rising sea levels, some simply won’t consider leaving a country under threat.

“Humans are so ingenious that they will find floating ways … to live in this very place,” says Nasheed, a former leader of the Maldives, suggesting that people may turn to floating cities.

How these states will find the resources for such projects is unclear. The issue of financing “losses and damages” caused by the effects of global warming will be a hot issue at COP27 in Egypt in November.

Residents of the coral atoll of Kiritimati, part of the Republic of Kiribati, built a dike of reef blocks to protect against

Residents of Kiritimati Atoll, which is part of the Republic of Kiribati, build a dike of reef blocks to protect against rising sea levels, in an undated photo provided by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.

While experts like Amacran defend the “right to stay” for people who don’t want to leave their heritage, he adds, “You should always have a plan B.”

In this vein, he called for “as soon as possible” to start a “political” process to preserve the future of unlivable states, “because it gives people hope.”

Otherwise, he warns, the current state of uncertainty “creates bitterness and disorder, and thereby you kill the nation, the people.”


What happens when a country sinks?


© 2022 AFP

Citation: Are some nations doomed with rising oceans? (2022, October 10) Retrieved October 10, 2022, from https://phys.org/news/2022-10-oceans-nations-doomed.html

This document is subject to copyright. Except in good faith for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without written permission. The content is provided for informational purposes only.