Sinking islands battle tides of climate change

Sinking islands battle tides of climate change

Paradise lost

Small island nations around the world are already feeling the impact of rising sea levels. And probably none more so than the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, which is considered the lowest-elevation country on the planet. The average elevation of its 26 atolls is just 1.5 meters (5 feet) above sea level - so it wouldn't take much for the country to be rendered completely uninhabitable.

Sinking islands battle tides of climate change

Underwater property

Rising waters have already caused some islanders to flee their homes for higher ground. On the Kiribati islands in the Pacific, some villages have been completely flooded. Local farmers also have to worry about encroachment of saltwater on their crops. The ever-approaching sea means less surface area for agriculture, and a greater need to transport food from afar.

Sinking islands battle tides of climate change

Temporary escape

Around 113,000 people call the Kiribati islands home. Locals who've been displaced often end up on the main island of South Tarawa, which has a sea wall to protect low-lying properties on the shore from rising waters - but that's no permanent solution.

Sinking islands battle tides of climate change

Keeping the ocean at bay

The Dutch are famous for their efforts to fend off the sea - they built their first dikes to protect land from flooding more than 1,000 years ago. Today, a sophisticated system of dams and dikes allows two-thirds of the population live below sea level. Nevertheless, rising ocean levels are still a concern in the Netherlands, where there are future plans to fortify levees and build surge barriers.

Sinking islands battle tides of climate change

Sinking world heritage

Venice in northeastern Italy is no stranger to flooding - and according to experts, the iconic city will continue to sink. The Italian government has invested 9.6 billion euros ($7 billion) in the "Moses" water barrier project, designed to protect the city - a UNESCO World Heritage site - from rising oceans and high tides. The barriers are expected to be completed by 2016.

Sinking islands battle tides of climate change

Crisis in the Caribbean

Many small islands in far-flung corners of the ocean don't have the money to fund large-scale climate change mitigation. And often, they're not just facing rising seas - they're also under threat from increasingly frequent cyclones and hurricanes. In the Caribbean islands of St. Lucia and Dominica, frequent storms wreak havoc on local agriculture, including bananas and avocados.

Sinking islands battle tides of climate change

More severe storms

The devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines last November is a clear example of how the unpredictability of climate change can make weather events more severe for islands. Many homes in the typhoon’s path weren’t built to withstand typhoons, which previously tended to strike the north of the country. More than 6,200 people were killed.

Sinking islands battle tides of climate change

Paying for prosperity

Some argue that poorer, less-developed countries are now suffering as a consequence of Western industrialization. At the recent climate conference in Warsaw, Philippines Commissioner Yeb Saño made a passionate plea for action, saying: "What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness."

Sinking islands battle tides of climate change

Floating in the floodwaters

Although Bangladesh is on the mainland of Asia, it faces a huge risk from climate change due to its low-lying geography and population density. A mere 1-meter (3-foot) rise in sea level would cause half the country to be under water. Communities have started adapting to increased flooding by using floating agricultural technology to grow their crops.

Sinking islands battle tides of climate change

A new brand of refugee

There are fears sea level rises could eventually displace entire populations, creating hoards of climate change refugees. One idea floated by President Anote Tong of Kiribati some years ago was the possibility of building artificial islands for displaced locals to live on. Dubai - with its artificial island projects, like the one pictured here - may be able to help by sharing its experience.

The IPCC will release its latest report on Monday. The panel has warned that the impact of climate change will be felt around the world, including in some of the world's low-lying island nations and coastal regions.