ATLANTA — United States government scientists reported last week that 2014 was one of the warmest years, one for the record books with regards to atmospheric warming trends. Continuing a trajectory of warming that has seen consistent record-setting temperatures around the world, last year’s global average temperature was 1.24 degrees above the 20th century average of 57.1F. Nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since the year 2000.
For the grand majority of the earth’s citizens, the issue of climate change still exists in a largely theoretical sphere. Annual reports of a heating planet have become consistent and predictable, but the effects of human induced climate change are often invisible to the naked eye from one year to another. As fossil fuel consumption proceeds at an unprecedented rate, however, signs of a burgeoning climatic catastrophe become more and more visible in specific regions of the globe.
The negative impacts of global climate change are not expected to affect every region equally. Regions within the global south that have historically been developmentally disadvantaged due to floods, hurricanes and droughts are expected to experience an intensification of these climatic events with the ever-increasing rise of global carbon emissions. For no population is this escalating problem more threatening than for those within the Alliance of Small Island States, or AOSIS.
AOSIS is a coalition of nations who share one crucial commonality; they all stand to be the first countries severely and irrevocably affected by a warming planet. Consisting of forty-four Small Island Developing States, or SIDS, the members of this international organization act as the mouthpiece for the populations of these islands who have a growing concern about current sea level fluctuations. SIDS communities comprise five percent of the global human population, 28 percent of the world’s developing countries, and 20 percent of the total membership of the United Nations.
Studies released in conjunction by NASA and the University of California Irvine last year revealed that a series of major glaciers on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet have become so destabilized by climate change that their eventual retreat will cause sea levels to rise within a matter of a few hundred years. Another study conducted around the same time by the University of Washington and Science Magazine arrived at a similar conclusion; the integrity of massive glaciers in West Antarctica have become so undermined by a warming planet that their eventual collapse into the ocean is inevitable and irreversible. NASA’s press release on the findings puts the matter in plain, sobering English; “we have passed the point of no return,” they proclaimed.
The destruction of the Antarctic ice sheet will have a dramatic impact on global ocean levels. A projected ten to thirteen-foot sea level rise is expected to take place within the next few hundred years, a forecast that does not bode well for the members of AOSIS. Many member states will be completely submerged when the affected ice sheets finally collapse, and the rise in ocean levels could potentially trigger a domino effect of melting ice and collapsing glaciers.
At particular risk are the Pacific islands Kiribati, Tuvalu and Vanuatu; these small nations are pancake-flat and rise only a few meters above sea level. Kiribati recently reported to the United Nations that climate change stands to affect their basic human rights as a people, and points to the potential destruction of their homes as a violation of their rights as a distinct, island-inhabiting culture.
By all indications, the increasing global climate trend does not seem to be slowing down any time soon, and the concurrent effects on sea levels can be expected to be disastrous for developing communities within the forty-four member states of AOSIS.
“This is the latest in a series of warm years, in a series of warm decades,” concluded Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies Gavin Schmidt. “The long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gasses.”
– Brady Mott