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A Guide to Information on Greenhouse Gases and Ozone Depletion
Published July 1988 through June 1999


Small Island States

Item #d99apr43

According to a Feb. 22, 1999, press release issued by the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) in Suva, Fiji, that organization contracted with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to model sea-level rise as a function of CO2 concentration of the atmosphere. The resultant CSIRO report shows that human emissions up to 1995 have already built an inevitable 5- to 12-cm sea-level rise into natural systems. This increase would peak between 2020 and 2025. Consistently rising emissions mean the likely eventual rise in sea level will be considerably greater. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said that if current emissions continue, sea levels will rise by 15 to 95 cm by 2100. The longer the world waits before making substantial cuts in emissions, the greater the resulting global warming and sea-level rise will be. The CSIRO projections indicate that, even if all countries met their Kyoto Protocol commitments and if technology made it possible to cease all human GHG emissions after 2020, small island states, some of them only 1.5 meters above sea level, would face a sea-level rise of 14 to 32 cm, peaking in about 2050. But halting human emissions by 2020 appears impossible. Therefore the vulnerability of hundreds of small islands and their unique cultures and biodiversity will increase as the next millennium proceeds. The CSIRO report goes on to say that latent sea-level rise already built into natural systems by past emissions has the potential to threaten all regions where coastal impacts are currently marginal to severe.

Gerald Miles, head of SPREP’s Environmental Management and Planning Division, said it was important to recognize that it took decades or centuries for warmer temperatures to be absorbed by the oceans, which then expanded with the extra warmth, raising sea levels. “This report underlines the urgent need for committed action to cut emissions to levels recommended by the world’s climate scientists,” he said. “Small islands are in the front line, and the longer countries delay committed action, the greater the risks for small island states.”

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