Climate change, a clear and present danger to the world’s island nations


The month of March was, according to one regular source on the main island of Mahe, the warmest March in known history with two days, 29th and 30th recording the third highest temperature ever recorded by weather stations of the archipelago with 33.7 degrees C. The hottest day ever took temperatures to 34.4 degrees C in November 1974 while the second highest temperatures recorded was 33.8 degrees C in April 1998. The month of April, normally the warmest month in the Seychelles, may yet show even higher temperature readings, something visiting tourists will appreciate as they wish to escape the cold climes to soak up sun while enjoying the hospitality of one of the world’s dream destinations.

The persistently high temperature readings come only two months after the Seychelles was hit by torrential rain as the tail end of tropical cyclone Felleng pounded fellow Vanilla Island Madagascar, leaving death and destruction in its wake and causing flooding and serious damage on Mahe and other of the Seychelles 115 islands.

Though outside the cyclone belt, this storm system proved to be larger than usual and hit the distant inner islands of the Seychelles too, a situation which according to some weather experts may become the rule rather than the exception in the future, if the world is not coming together to agree on radical anti climate change measures.

Over the Easter weekend was Mauritius hit by torrential rainstorms, also causing deaths, widespread flooding in particular in the capital Port Louis and the damages were pegged at tens of millions of US Dollars.

The Seychelles, keenly aware of the impact of climate change as an island nation exposed to the rising ocean levels, has played her own part in protecting their environment by dedicating over 50 percent of its territory to terrestrial and marine national parks but has also taken the global leadership to articulate the concerns of island nations vis a vis global warming and climate change.

In East Africa, the ice caps on Mt. Kilimanjaro, on Mt. Kenya and across the Rwenzori Mountain range have over the past decades shrunk to a mere fraction of their size even seen 20 years ago, a constant reminder that climate change has not just reached East Africa but is now impacting seriously on agriculture – key to feeding the fast growing populations in the region – where droughts and flash floods are now dominating the weather headlines and ruining crops of staple food.

Shrinking glaciers are also found in the Arctic and Antarctica, but most notably has the melting off of the ice cap in Greenland started to concern experts, as that could be the single most important factor to the potential increase in ocean levels beyond the currently projected rise of 20 or 30 centimetres to significantly higher levels.

And here comes the clear and present danger to the world’s island nations, which as is the case for instance in the Maldives, are at best dozens of feet above sea level and as such extremely vulnerable to flood or even ‘go under’ if the family of nations cannot agree on drastic cuts to greenhouse gas emissions and dial back the pollution to levels last seen some 50 years ago.

Seychelles President James Alix Michel has used his good office to lobby, at the UN but also at global fora where the fallout of climate change is discussed by politicians and experts, seeking to find a way forward on which all can agree. With the Doha Climate Summit producing only very limited results to the disappointment of those likely to be most affected by the fallout of global warming, President Michel, at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit in February this year said: ‘Many nations, and many politicians, remain unconvinced that we are on the verge of a global meltdown. They continue to live in denial! In negotiations on climate change, we are fragmented into groups– into “clubs” of interests. But we should never forget that we need to face a threat that affects us all. As citizens of individual countries, we may delude ourselves into thinking what is beyond our borders doesn’t affect us. But as citizens of the world we cannot continue to tolerate inaction’.

At the same forum two years earlier in 2011 he had already sounded the alarm bells, on behalf of his own country, the Seychelles, but also on behalf of fellow island countries in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, when he stated loud and clear: ‘Climate change is undoubtedly the toughest challenge, because it threatens all our efforts at sustainable development. Despite negotiations that have spanned three decades we are still not making the right commitments to address the impacts of climate change, which will have devastating prospects for small islands, and of course low-lying areas of this continent. We’ve seen the impacts of a warming ocean on our coral reefs and we have observed changes in our rainfall patterns to the extent that we have had serious water shortages in the past few months in Seychelles. The threat of climate change is real and the consequences dire. We continue to repeat this call, because amidst all the debates, amidst all the polemics, we can’t change the facts. The facts tell us that climate change will delay our efforts at sustainable development. The facts indicate clearly climate change will affect our fisheries, our agriculture, our water resources, hence our ability to feed our people. And the facts tell us that climate change will inflict poverty and threaten our very existence as a nation’.

The Seychelles, globally known and recognized as one the world’s most desirable tropical island destinations, alongside fellow Vanilla Island partners La Reunion, Mauritius, Madagascar, Mayotte and the Comoros, but also the more distant Maldives and Sri Lanka, are all faced with the prospect of a medium term rise in ocean water levels, eating up the beaches, flooding low lying areas and having vital installations like roads, ports and even airports facing the prospect of being submerged and rendered unserviceable. Trying to avoid that by bringing the global community on board, the Seychelles in 2009 launched their National Climate Change Strategy, which spells out comprehensive measures how best to combat the threat to the archipelago’s long term survival, yet those elaborate plans and measures will be rendered nearly useless if the rest of the world is not doing the same. The question is, can the world afford to lose such gems as the Seychelles Islands, renown for their natural beauty, the crystal clear waters, the tropical vegetation and its often breathtaking vistas and scenery?

For many, the report by the Seychelles Meteorological Service for March will go entirely unnoticed of course, and those who read about it may even enjoy the idea of such temperatures considering the weather in Europe at the time. Yet, for those in the know it is also the ringing of an alarm bell, giving notice of things to come, things which in a generation or two or three will irreversibly alter the fabric of those islands, threaten the survival of the Aldabra Atoll and other of the outer coral islands and submerge the pearl white beaches on the main inner islands, should ocean waters continue to rise.

Rising temperatures will also have a serious impact on the marine life around the islands, the coral reefs, highlighted every year through the Festival of the Sea or SUBIOS, when photographers from around the world descend on the Seychelles to celebrate the biodiversity of the ocean around the islands. Maybe it is slowly dawning on those most stubbornly resisting the demands by global climate summits, that the destination many of their citizens fancy as a top tourist destination, way out in the Indian Ocean, needs to be protected through global measures, and not just leaving it to ‘little Seychelles’ to struggle on their own. China, Russia, India all have seen visitor numbers to the Seychelles soar, and for good reasons. So the key question really is, how about playing a meaningful part in keeping the destination as it is right now and not turn it, and other similar island countries, into the Atlantis of modern day age? Handing the Seychelles a life vest in the form of finally making real and measurable commitments to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases will do very nicely, thank you very much. Certainly, President Michel would have reason to smile when he attends the next Climate Change Forum and he could acknowledge that the community of nations has finally come together in doing the right thing and ensuring that the Seychelles, and the Maldives and others, will still be around in a few hundred years. Fodder for thought no doubt.

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