By Catherine Brahic
"The first line of coconut trees has disappeared"
- Kiribati inhabitant
- Kiribati inhabitant
While the world dithers about tackling climate change, in some parts of the world people are running out of time. In Florida sea level rises can be worked around to some extent - condos can be put on stilts and moved away from the shoreline. But on some islands you can only move back so far before you have to start worrying about the water at your back door as well as the water in front.
Here are five islands whose inhabitants are going to need a new home soon:
1. The Guardian reports today that the new president of the Maldives will be putting part of the country's profits from tourism into a very special - and unusual - fund: one that will be used to buy a new, climate-change-friendly home. With its highest point reaching only 2.4 metres, the Maldives is one of the lowest-lying nations in the world and risks being submerged by rising sea-levels.
2. Tuvalu is another small pacific island state, and after the Maldives the second-lowest nation in the world. At its highest, it is 5 metres above sea-level and could be gone by the middle of this century. In 2002, the government was said to have hired two international law firms to look into suing polluting nations for effectively evicting its citizens.
3. Kiribati is a group of 32 atols and one island that peaks at 6.5 metres above sea-level. The World Bank has been involved in assessing the nation's vulnerability to climate change. I attended a talk by one of the project leaders some years ago in Paris. She quoted a few of the changes which the islanders were noticing. The one that has always stuck with me was "the first line of coconut trees has disappeared". Salt-intrusion was killing off the trees that were closest to the water.
4. The inhabitants of the Carteret Islands of Papua New Guinea may be among the first climate refugees - their home lies just 1.2 metres above the waves. The government of Papua New Guinea adopted a plan in 2005 to evacuate the locals to the neighbouring island of Bougainville. The relocation was initially scheduled for 2007, then delayed. According to this report, there was a trial earlier this year, which created some tension as relocated citizens were used as labourers in coconut plantations on Bougainville.
5. In 1995, 500,000 inhabitants on Bangladesh's Bhola Island were forced to move in when half their island was permanently flooded. Some claim they were the first climate refugees. Scientists predict that 20 million Bangladeshis could suffer the same fate by 2030.