Sea Level Rise
SEA LEVEL RISE: BILLIONS POSSIBLY DISPLACED BY MID-CENTURY
This story is brought to you in part by Glenergy
By Cori Marshall
A recent study from Charles Geisler and Ben Currens, Impediments to inland resettlement under conditions of accelerated sea level rise, makes the argument that "global mean sea level rise may dislocate hundreds of millions of people by 2100." This sea level rise stems "from the multiple effects of human-induced climate change."
Our climate is changing, and a large part of the human population could be on the move within the next half century, and our activities are at the heart of the problem. Geisler and Currens' study estimates that 1.4 billion people could be displaced by 2060, and that number rises to approximately 2 billion by 2100.
With the projected view of such a large scale migration, we wanted to explore what those who will be affected to the extent of having to move inland, or elsewhere, would be facing.
Martin Sharp, Glaciologist and Professor in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences University of Alberta, said "the basis of his concern is that roughly ? of the world's population live within [a] 100m vertical elevation of present sea level." He added, "life is one aspect of the concern - but the infrastructure and distribution of the food supply required to support those populations is also a big issue."
Sharp explained, "people can be displaced because of loss of a means of support as well as by direct physical threat from flooding or storm surges."
"How much sea level rises varies from place to place in relation to the source of additional water entering the ocean," Sharp related. "Typically, we assume that, in the lower term, the main sources [of additional water] will be the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica."
Sharp pointed out that "projected sea level rise is nowhere close to 100m," though predictions vary. He said that "there is no suggestion that all regions below 100m [of the] actual sea level will become completely uninhabitable." This doesn't mean that there won't be impacts in those regions of the world.
Sharp suggested that "sea level rise will likely impact capacity to produce food and damage infrastructure, and increase the risk of damage associated with events like hurricanes and storm surges, to a degree that may result in the displacement of populations."
Sharp said that there is "talk about 'committed sea level rise'." What is meant by this is that "mean sea level rise would occur even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases tomorrow." Sharp explained that "ice sheets and ocean water temperature both respond slowly to changes in atmospheric temperature."
"Even with a stable global air temperature the ice sheets would continue to lose mass for some significant period of time until their mass is sufficiently reduced that they reach an equilibrium with the climate that initiated the melting," Sharp said. He added that "committed seal level rise is typically computed with numerical models, and calculated amounts are very dependent on how climate is projected to change."
With data pointing to the potential displacement of billions of people, it is important to note that this possible mass migration may play itself out internally or across transnational borders.
What could those coming from these potentially affected areas be facing?
Chedly Belkhodja, Principal and Professor at Concordia University's School of Community and Public Affairs, said that "people are not ready to face the high numbers of refugees that could be the consequence of climate change." Belkhodja believes "that people are aware, the issue is how to manage this." He added that "it is in a time of crisis that states react, [though] the planning isn't strong."
Belkhodja said that "in today's world, migration also relates to the reaction of national populations and anti-immigration attitudes." Taking this into account climate change and sea level rise could create "higher numbers of vulnerable people."
"There are times when communities are welcoming, generous, and compassionate, it needs to be planned," Belkhodja said.
"We saw with the Syrian [refugees] in Canada it was difficult and challenging because the planning was not there at the beginning," Belkhodja explained.
Some communities were ready to receive the arrivals while others were not, though the numbers were nowhere near what will be on the move as a result of climate change.
"Canadians in general if they see the need to welcome they will open their arms, we have to know also that the fact is the world is going through major changes," Belkhodja said. Governments may be accepting of refugees, though some parts of the population may react differently and this past summer that saw refugees crossing the border into Canada from the U.S. is an example.
Belkhodja said that "the reaction may be towards [the view] that there could be too many refugees and climate change will definitely put a lot of strain on countries."
Belkhodja suggests the best approach to dealing with this is "collaboration from multiple levels of government, from local, regional, national, and global governance to have strong leadership not only from states but the international community as well."
Anti-immigration sentiment or policies will be of no help if and when billions of people are on the move. Societies should be open and welcoming of those escaping precarious situations. The best way to help those that will be displaced in the coming decades is to put the policies and strategies in place ahead of time to allow those fleeing affected areas to move freely into other regions of the world.