Back in 1989 Noel Brown, director of the New York office of the United Nations (UN) Environment Programme, said that entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by rising sea levels if the global warming trend was not reversed by the year 2000. Melting polar ice caps would cause sea levels to rise by three feet, enough to cover the Maldives and other flat-island nations, he warned.
By 2007, according to Al Gore, author of a special edition of An Inconvenient Truth adapted for “young readers”, “millions of people” had already had to evacuate their homes in the low-lying nations in the Pacific.
Two years later, in 2009, Mohamed Nasheed, president of the Maldives, an archipelago of nearly 2 000 islands in the Indian Ocean south west of Sri Lanka, held an underwater cabinet meeting to dramatise his nation’s plight if global temperatures rose above 1.5 degrees Celsius. But nearly a decade after that, in 2017, Euromoney reported that the current president “rarely mentions climate change, preferring to focus squarely on growth, jobs, and infrastructure”.
In 2019 the UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, said, “We must stop Tuvalu from sinking, and the world from sinking with Tuvalu.” This despite an article in Nature having reported that over the past 40 years the Tuvalu islands, which are located in the Pacific north west of Australia, had gained about 2.9% in land area notwithstanding a sea-level rise during that period of twice the global average. A quarter of the 101 islands had decreased in size, while three quarters had grown. Eight of the nine atolls had also grown. And the country’s finance ministry reported in 2019 on “six consecutive years of economic growth”.
So what then is happening with rising sea-levels and these thousands of islands and coral atolls? The Nature study cited “growing evidence that islands are geologically dynamic features that will adjust to changing sea-level and climatic conditions”.
According to a 2019 paper by Judith Curry of the Climate Forecast Applications Network, there is nothing unusual about the rise in sea levels of some 3 millimetres a year since 1993. It is “within the range of natural sea-level variability over the past several thousand years”. Nor is there yet any convincing evidence that the rise is “associated with human-caused global warming”. In many coastal locations the dominant causes of rising-sea-level problems are “natural oceanic and geological processes and land-use practices”, while “groundwater extraction” is one of the “worst problems”.