Islanders Swamped by Sea Rising Four Times Rate Globally

Islanders are being swamped by sea levels rising as much as four times faster than average global rates, with businesses destroyed and economies under threat, according to the United Nations Environment Program.

The sea level in the tropical western Pacific rose by 12 millimeters (half an inch) a year between 1993 and 2009, the UNEP said today in an e-mailed study to mark World Environment Day. The global average pace is 3.2 millimeters a year.

The effect is not a theoretical impact in the future but a reality now, said Tony de Brum, a Marshall Islands minister, who described one of its islands simply disappearing under the sea.

“It was there 20 years ago, it was a productive little island with coconuts, breadfruit and a small pearl farm,” de Brum told reporters today at a round of UN climate treaty talks in Bonn. “The only way that you can tell there was an island there is if you fly over the spot and see the scars.”

The warming temperatures causing seas to rise also bleach corals, deplete fisheries and push salt water onto farmland. In some parts of the Caribbean, all the reefs have already been bleached, the UN organization says. As much as 90 percent of those in the region will be at risk by 2030, it said. Small island nations are among the worst affected by rising seas.

“These 52 nations, home to over 62 million people, emit less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gases, yet they suffer disproportionately from the climate change that global emissions cause,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said by e-mail.

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