The Maldives “is not prepared at all” for the projected acceleration of sea level rise caused by the collapse of a glacier system in Western Antarctica, local environmental groups have said.
Two separate studies, by Nasa and the University of Washington, reported on Monday that unstable glaciers in the Amundsen Sea contain enough water to raise global sea levels by at least four feet, or 1.2 meters, in the coming centuries.
The melting of the Thwaites glacier – caused by warmer global temperatures – has begun and cannot be stopped even with drastic action to cut greenhouse emissions, scientists have warned.
The Maldives archipelago is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, with 80 percent of its 1,200 islands lying no more than a meter above sea level.
The collapse of the glacier has prompted international concern for the future of the archipelago, with financial news organization Bloomberg advising readers to “take that Maldives vacation you’ve been promising yourself — before it’s too late.”
“The issue is very big, it cannot be ignored like this. The government is not doing very much,” Ecocare member Maeed Zahir said.
The unexpected acceleration of the rise in sea level puts both the land mass and the people of Maldives at risk, he said.
“Its not only about submersion, it is also about the livelihood of the people. There will be an alarming impact on fisheries,” he noted. “Health issues will also come under impact. When the tides and water flood the island there will be water borne disease.”
Meanwhile, environmental advocacy group Bluepeace has called on the government to make contingency plans immediately.
Bluepeace founder Ali Rilwan argued “elevated adapted islands” where islands are raised by three meters through reclamation or buildings are raised on three-meter high stilts are the only solution for the Maldives.
“We cannot depend on the outcome of the international negotiations,” he said. “We have to find our own survival.”
Other measures include creating water villages, he added.
The organisation has recently also called for better conservation and management of reefs, wetlands, sea grass beds, and coastal vegetation as global warming pushes the Maldives into “uncharted waters.”
Former President Mohamed Nasheed had previously suggested relocating the Maldivian population to higher ground.
He told the Guardian in 2008 “We can do nothing to stop climate change on our own and so we have to buy land elsewhere,” naming Sri Lanka, India and Australia, as possible spots for a refuge. “It’s an insurance policy for the worst possible outcome,” he added.
The Minister of Environment and Energy Thoriq Ibrahim was not responding to calls at the time of press.
Climate Change policy
The current administration’s policies on climate change have been hard to define.
The Environment Ministry has announced a number of initiatives to minimize the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, including a pledge to convert 30 percent of all electrical use to renewable energy, and the Scaling-Up Renewable Energy Programme (SREP) set to “transform the Maldives energy sector.”
However, President Abdulla Yameen has also pledged to explore for crude oil in the Maldives as an alternative means of diversifying the economy and supplementing fuel supply.
Criticising Yameen’s policies, Rilwan said: “Politicans are always likely to focus on economic development. They are totally aware [of climate change] but because of short term political gain, they do not think of long term survival.”
The Thwaites Glacier
Researchers said that although sea level rise could not be stopped, it is still several centuries off, and potentially up to 1,000 years away.
Speaking to the Guardian, The University of Washington researchers stated that the Thwaites glacier acts as a dam that holds back the rest of the ice sheet. Once Thwaites goes, researchers said, the remaining ice in the sheet could cause another 10 to 13ft (3 – 4 meters) of global sea-level rise.
The latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that the effects of global warming are “Risk of death, injury, and disrupted livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones and small island developing states, due to sea-level rise, coastal flooding, and storm surges.”
The report projected sea level to rise between 0.22 and 0.44 meters by the mid 2090s based on projections of thermal expansion and melting of alpine glaciers.
In light of the Thwaites discovery, the rate of sea levels will double compared to the original IPCC predictions, glaciologist for the British Antarctic Survey Hamish Pritchard predicted.
Photo by Jim Yungel/NASA Photograph