Staying Afloat in Copenhagen

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A cabinet meeting underwater? It sounds like a joke, but on small island nations like the Maldives, rising sea levels mean life underwater may soon be a reality. Along with other island leaders, the Maldives' President Mohamed Nasheed has been an outspoken supporter of emissions cuts and other moves to combat climate change. In October, he held a cabinet meeting 16 feet underwater to raise awareness of the rising sea levels that threaten his country. This month, he joins hundreds of other politicians, businessmen, and environmental leaders from around the world in Copenhagen, Denmark, to discuss climate change and its potentially dire consequences.

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The expected rise in oceans caused by climate change threatens the very existence of islands such as the Maldives, where the entire nation is no more than 7 feet above sea level. Even if some of the islands remain intact, rising sea levels may infiltrate their fresh water supply and render the area uninhabitable. Island residents have begun preparing for evacuation, and President Nasheed and other island leaders have long been vocal supporters of strong climate change policy.

Other issues related to climate change have a disproportionate impact on small islands. With the warming of the oceans, acidification is destroying many coral reefs, which are some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet and the foundation for atolls. Changes in global temperature are expected to bring increased ocean storms to many regions of the world, wrecking havoc on vulnerable islands. Because of their self-contained ecosystems, islands often harbor highly sensitive species whose populations are soon endangered by environmental changes. And many island communities lack the financial support to address the challenges of climate change

Unfortunately for the Maldives and other islands, the political clout of small island nations at the Copenhagen talks is hard pressed to compete with that of major world players like the United States. Not only do their smaller sizes and economies give them less prestige, but many small nations are already indebted to larger ones for financial support, making speaking out politically dangerous. Some less powerful delegates at the Copenhagen conference are considering extreme measures like public walkouts if the agreements don't bring substantial change.

As the talks continue in Copenhagen, only time will tell where the fate of small island nations lies. Climate change is an urgent issue for the entire planet, but for islands like the Maldives, the midnight hour is approaching rapidly.

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This page contains a single entry by Carynne McIver published on December 9, 2009 3:29 PM.

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