With sea levels expected to rise by as much as three feet by the year 2100, in large part due to climate change, low-lying countries and coastal cities face an unprecedented challenge this century. Recent research indicated that in the next several centuries, average global sea levels could rise somewhere between 18 and 29 feet, explains Climate Central, a nonprofit climate news and research organization.
Much of this potential sea level rise may be spurred by glacial melting in the world's polar regions. James Hansen, a professor at Columbia University and head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has said that the global goal to limit atmospheric warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) "is actually a prescription for long-term disaster." Hansen fears, LiveScience reported, that with warming of two degrees, we could see an ice-free Arctic and a notable rise in sea-levels by tens of meters.
An increasing number of studies are making the connections between human activities, climate change and a rise in extreme weather events. Hansen recently wrote in The Washington Post, "our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change." Referring to extreme weather events in the past decade in North America and Europe, he wrote, "The odds that natural variability created these extremes are minuscule, vanishingly small. To count on those odds would be like quitting your job and playing the lottery every morning to pay the bills."
Although many of the locations on the list below of low-lying areas are outside of North America, the U.S. is not immune from sea level rise. A recent report from the U.S. Geological Survey found that there is a "hotspot" along the U.S. East Coast, where rates of sea level rise are increasing about three to four times more than the global average and could "increase the vulnerability of coastal cities to flooding, and beaches and wetlands to deterioration."
On the West Coast, most of the California coast will see a six inch sea level rise by 2030 and an average rise of 3 feet by 2100, according to a study by the National Research Council.
It has been suggested that it is not just the severity of climate change that will determine a country's fate, but rather those hit hardest are the regions which "lack the resources to cushion their people against climate-related disasters such as hurricanes, floods, heat waves and droughts," explained InnovationNewsDaily.
Below, find some of the countries, regions and cities that may be most vulnerable to sea level rise, in part due to climate change. This list does not include every island nation or coastal area, and many other regions could also face threats. With variations in sea level rise estimates, future mitigation efforts and changes in available resources, some locations' fates may not be sealed. But the risk is clear.
Palau is one of many Pacific island nations that must confront a future of rising sea levels. <a href="http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/video/video-paradise-lost/14421/" target="_hplink">PBS reports</a>, "Palau's coasts are being eroded, its local farmlands tainted by seawater, and its valuable reefs threatened. Johnson Toribiong, President of Palau, calls the damage he's witnessing 'a slow-moving tsunami.' Palau has fought back by appealing to the United Nations to hold industrialized countries responsible for "the damage caused by greenhouse gas emissions, which most scientists say are driving climate change," according to PBS. Additionally, the <a href="http://www.palauconservation.org/cms/index.php/issues/climate-change" target="_hplink">Palau Conservation Society has developed plans</a> to work "with communities to reduce sensitivity, exposure, and vulnerability to climate change."
Kiribati, composed of 33 small islands in the Pacific, is facing an existential threat from rising sea levels. <a href="http://www.npr.org/2011/02/16/133650679/climate-change-and-faith-collide-in-kiribati" target="_hplink">According to NPR</a>, the "average height of the islands is approximately 6.5 feet." Kiribatian President Anote Tong said at a U.N. climate change conference in Cancun, Mexico in 2010 that rising sea levels this century could "ultimately lead to the demise of island countries like Kiribati." The president has promoted a strategy called "migrating with dignity," where Kiribati's citizens are given "economic incentives to move gradually, so they have time to adapt and to build a Kiribati community abroad," <a href="http://www.npr.org/2011/02/17/133681251/preparing-for-sea-level-rise-islanders-leave-home" target="_hplink">explained NPR</a>. The president's cabinet endorsed a plan in March to purchase almost 6,000 acres in Fiji for Kiribati's residents. The $9.6 million purchase "could provide an insurance policy for Kiribati's entire population of 103,000, though [the president] hopes it will never be necessary for everyone to leave," <a href="http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/03/09/10618829-as-sea-levels-rise-kiribati-eyes-6000-acres-in-fiji-as-new-home-for-103000-islanders?lite" target="_hplink">reported AP</a>.
In Bangladesh, much of the country is less than 16 feet above sea level, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/09/climate-change-adaptations_n_1759835.html" target="_hplink">according to InnovationNewsDaily</a>. Up to a quarter of the country is flooded in an average year and "as much as 60 percent [is flooded] every four or five years." <a href="http://www.thefinancialexpress-bd.com/more.php?news_id=139686&date=2012-08-10" target="_hplink">The <em>Financial Express</em> notes</a> that limited resources may hinder the country's adaptation to the effects of climate change and rising sea levels. Despite this, the country has been called "the most aware society on climate change in the world," <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/may/09/bangladesh-war-against-climate-change" target="_hplink">according to the <em>Guardian</em></a>. Dipu Moni, the country's foreign minister, reportedly said, "The people being affected are not the big banks but the poor. Our plight goes quite unnoticed. It does not make the rich countries produce trillions of dollars overnight. It's a shame, but we keep trying."
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has said that Miami is <a href="http://www.rms.com/publications/OECD_Cities_Coastal_Flooding.pdf" target="_hplink">one of the most vulnerable cities</a> to sea level rise in the world. <a href="http://grist.org/cities/2011-10-26-underwater-cities-climate-change-begins-reshape-urban-landscape/" target="_hplink">Grist notes</a>, "Sea levels have risen nine to 12 inches here in the past century, and are expected to rise up to six more inches by 2030, 12 to 21 inches by 2060, and by three to five feet by 2100." <a href="http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/06/22/2864586/rising-seas-mean-shrinking-south.html" target="_hplink">The <em>Miami Herald</em> reported</a> that Ben Strauss, the chief operating officer of Climate Central, told a conference sponsored by Florida Atlantic University in June, "There's good reason to believe southern Florida will eventually have to be evacuated." The city of Miami Beach is currently "vetting a $200 million storm water concept that is one of the first in the nation to respond to sea level rise resulting from global warming," <a href="http://www.bizjournals.com/southflorida/print-edition/2012/08/10/miami-beach-gets-rising-seas-sticker.html" target="_hplink">according to the <em>South Florida Business Journal</em></a>.
According to the <a href="http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/vanishing-point-20120806-23op2.html" target="_hplink"><em>Sydney Morning Herald</em></a>, "Tuvalu is one of the most isolated countries on the planet." It has also been called "the canary in the climate-change coal mine." James Conway, a 53-year-old American adviser to the government, told the <em>Sydney Morning Herald</em>, "Unless Tuvaluans adopt the lifestyle of the Marsh Arabs and build their houses on stilts over water, and that's where they live 24 hours a day, eventually most, if not all, of the island will become uninhabitable." Tuvalu's future also includes threats from limited fresh water resources. The National University of Australia's Ian Fry, an international environmental officer for the Tuvalu government, said, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/14/tuvalu-water-crisis_n_1010601.html" target="_hplink">according to AP</a>, that limited fresh water is "one of the greatest problems."
With a three to six foot sea level rise predicted by 2100, nations like the Maldives could become uninhabitable, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/cwire/2011/05/25/25climatewire-island-nations-may-keep-some-sovereignty-if-63590.html" target="_hplink">explained <em>The New York Times</em></a>. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/06/mohamed-nasheed-maldives-climate-change-united-states_n_1652409.html" target="_hplink">Maldives' former president, Mohamed Nasheed</a>, has been a tireless campaigner for the urgent need for countries to take action against climate change, arguing "You can't pick and choose on science." While president, Nasheed <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/02/the-island-president-mohamed-nasheed_n_1383413.html" target="_hplink">pushed for the Maldives to become carbon neutral</a>. His efforts and his words to the 2009 U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen were also featured in the award-winning documentary "The Island President."
This Caribbean nation was home to the U.N.'s first Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island States in 1994. <a href="http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=31488&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html" target="_hplink">UNESCO notes</a>: <blockquote>The issues of climate change and sea-level rise were major driving forces leading to the convening of the Barbados Conference in April-May 1994. With populations, agricultural lands and infrastructures tending to be concentrated in the coastal zone, any rise in sea-level will have significant and profound effects on settlements, living conditions and island economies. The very survival of certain low-lying countries is threatened.</blockquote> A <a href="http://www.bb.undp.org/uploads/file/pdfs/energy_environment/Modelling the impacts and costs of SLR in the Cbean - Final2011.pdf" target="_hplink">2010 report by the United Nations Development Programme</a> found that with one meter of sea level rise, "Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, St. Kitts and Nevis and The Bahamas are expected to be impacted annually with losses of up to 5% of GDP." <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/rising-sea-level-threatens-hundreds-of-caribbean-resorts-says-un-report-2148034.html" target="_hplink">According to the <em>Independent</em></a>, Barbados' losses from tourism "are projected to amount to between $283m and $368m in 2050.
<a href="http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=836389" target="_hplink">According to the <em>Philippine Star</em></a>, "archipelagic Philippines with over 7,100 islands is one of the most flood-prone nations in the world with over 18,000 kilometers of shoreline." Earlier this year, the Philippine government <a href="http://www.gov.ph/about-project-noah/" target="_hplink">launched Project NOAH (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards)</a>, in response to the president's call "for a more accurate, integrated, and responsive disaster prevention and mitigation system, especially in high-risk areas throughout the Philippines." A <a href="http://www.worldriskreport.com/uploads/media/Fact_Sheet_final_engl.pdf" target="_hplink">2011 report from the United Nations University's Institute for Environment and Human Security and the German Alliance Development Works</a> ranked the Philippines as the third most vulnerable country to natural disasters and climate change. Yet earlier this year, the U.N.'s Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström, said the Philippines' laws for climate change adaptation were "the best in the world," <a href="http://globalnation.inquirer.net/35695/un-lauds-philippines%E2%80%99-climate-change-laws-%E2%80%98world%E2%80%99s-best%E2%80%99" target="_hplink">reported the <em>Philippine Daily Inquirer</em></a>.
Along the California coast, beach communities are finding that it may be impossible to stop coastal erosion as global sea levels rise. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/02/beach-communities-moving-inward_n_1565122.html" target="_hplink">According to AP</a>, David Revell, a senior coastal scientist at <a href="http://www.pwa-ltd.com/" target="_hplink">ESA PWA</a>, acknowledged the relentless power of the sea, saying, "I like to think of it as getting out of the way gracefully." A <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/22/west-coast-sea-level-rise_n_1619568.html" target="_hplink">report released in June by the Natural Resources Defense Council</a> found that West Coast ocean levels will rise several inches in the next few decades. Sea levels along the California coast are expected to be six inches higher by 2030 and three feet higher by the end of the century. Despite the risks, another recent NRDC study found that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/08/california-climate-change-study_n_1409312.html" target="_hplink">California is one of several states</a> with the best plans to deal with the effects of climate change.
New York City
According to a 2012 report from New Jersey-based nonprofit <a href="http://sealevel.climatecentral.org/" target="_hplink">Climate Central</a>, thousands of New York City residents may be at risk for severe <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/15/rising-sea-levels-threate_n_1347333.html" target="_hplink">coastal flooding as a result of climate change</a>. <a href="http://slr.s3.amazonaws.com/factsheets/New_York.pdf" target="_hplink">Climate Central explains</a>, "the NY metro area hosts the nation's highest-density populations vulnerable to sea level rise." They argue, "the funnel shape of New York Harbor has the potential to magnify storm surges already supplemented by sea level rise, threatening widespread areas of New York City."
An urban planner and researcher recently <a href="http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Rising+levels+putting+landmarks+risk/7042118/story.html" target="_hplink">told the <em>Vancouver Sun</em></a> that the city will need to take steps to protect many of its landmarks. Andrew Yan "estimates the city will have to spend upwards of $510 million to build and upgrade the dikes and seawalls - plus billions more to buy the land to put them on - over the next century." The <em>Vancouver Sun</em> also notes that the city's entire metropolitan area is "ranked as at high risk for negative effects of climate change because it has so many people, so much infrastructure and so many assets at sea level."
<a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/nov/09/solomon-islands-climate-change" target="_hplink">According to the <em>Guardian</em>,</a> "The smaller outer islands in the Solomon Islands are already seeing devastating impacts of the rising sea level. The impact of climate change is already affecting the rural population of Solomon Islands, an archipelago of eight bigger islands and hundreds of small, mostly uninhabited islands." On one atoll, the staple crop is threatened by the increasing salinity of its sandy soil and elsewhere, erosion has exposed graves at a village cemetery.
Federated States of Micronesia
Along with other low-lying island nations, sea level rise directly threatens the Federated States of Micronesia. <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/global-warming-micronesia-island-nations-threatened-sea-level/story?id=9280340#.UCq2-mPLwhs" target="_hplink">According to ABC News</a>, rising seas are already eroding away island graveyards. Micronesia's Ambassador to the UN told ABC News, "Even the dead are no longer safe in my country." He added, "The threat is to our existence, survival, not only as a people -- as a culture. ... We now have just flat beaches -- the wash comes in and hits the roots of coconut trees." He also told ABC News that if sea level rise exceeds one meter, "the islands would get uninhabitable."
Shanghai's proximity to the water has allowed for economic prosperity, but also presents future challenges as sea levels rise. <a href="http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=shanghai-struggles-to-save-itself-from-east-china-sea" target="_hplink">According to ClimateWire</a>, the city has already "[poured] billions of dollars into rebuilding infrastructure to protect against potential floods." They explain, "the city's biggest concern remains the slow, steadily mounting threat that comes from sea level rise. Higher tides are washing away the precious delta soil upon which the city's foundations are built, and water supplies are becoming more tainted as seawater intrudes more deeply into the fresh water of the Yangtze."
Torres Strait Islands
The Torres Strait Islands are small and often overlooked group of Islands between Australia and New Guinea. <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/sinking-without-trace-australias-climate-change-victims-821136.html" target="_hplink">According to the <em>Independent</em></a>, "The low-lying islands that dot the sparkling waters of this region are facing similar challenges to South Pacific nations such as Kiribati and Tuvalu. But while the plight of those countries is well known and is regularly discussed in the international arena, few people outside Australia have even heard of the Torres Strait." In 2011, the Torres Strait Island Regional Council requested $5 million from the Australian government to rebuild seawalls to protect island communities from flooding. <a href="http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-12-05/council-makes-bid-for-5m-seawalls-revamp/3712496" target="_hplink">According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation</a>, Engineering manager Patrick McGuire said, "The points have been made that one of the most at-risk places in the world for sea level rise or climate change is the Torres Strait and the Government should be looking after its own backyard."
Papua New Guinea
Many of the smaller islands of Papua New Guinea are low-lying atolls which are threatened by rising sea levels. Bernard Tunim, a clan chief in the Carteret Islands <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/carteret-islands/6771651/The-sea-is-killing-our-island-paradise.html" target="_hplink">told the <em>Telegraph</em></a>, "In the last 10 to 20 years the change has been dramatic. We have experienced many king tides and when the wind blows, it comes right through the island, destroying our vegetables and fruit. The salt water destroyed bread fruit trees and poisoned the wells." <a href="http://ourworld.unu.edu/en/how-to-guide-for-environmental-refugees/" target="_hplink">According to the United Nations University</a>, rising seas have already inundated the Carteret Islands' vegetable plots, making them unusable to grow their staple crop, taro. In fact, "Carteret Islanders now face severe food shortages, with government aid coming by boat two or three times a year." The Australian Government's <a href="http://www.cawcr.gov.au/projects/PCCSP/pdf/14_PCCSP_PNG_8pp.pdf" target="_hplink">International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative notes</a>, "Satellite data indicate the sea level has risen near Papua New Guinea by about 7 mm per year since 1993. This is larger than the global average of 2.8-3.6 mm per year."
Lying only feet above sea level and comprising less than 100 square miles of land area, the 15 Cook Islands in the South Pacific are also threatened by rising seas. <a href="http://www.unesco.org/new/en/rio-20/single-view/news/sandwatch_on_the_frontlines_of_climate_change/" target="_hplink">According to UNESCO</a>, sea level rise threatens both the tourism and peal industries in the island nation. In 2003, UNESCO brought its Sandwatch educational program to the Cook Islands, to help schools and communities learn more about the impacts of climate change.