WHEN?

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By Anne T. Sulton, Ph.D., J.D.
JA Senior International Correspondent

Sri Lanka is an island nation located in the Indian Ocean. It is home to 23 million people. The current life expectancy for men is 74 years and 81 years for women. Almost 92% of its population is literate.

Like most nations on the planet, Sri Lanka is party to major international agreements on climate change, including but not limited to the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement. It has a national climate change policy and is taking steps to address climate change, including moving away from coal power to solar power.

Like many nations on the planet, on a good day, Sri Lanka is experiencing challenges associated with air, soil, and water pollution.

A few months ago, a container ship caught fire and sank close to the shore of the nation’s capitol city Colombo. This burning ship reportedly was carrying 300 tons of oil for the ship’s fuel, and 1,486 containers holding 25 tons of chemicals including nitric acid and small plastic pellets before it sank.

Certainly, this ship now is a pollution disaster, not just for the people of Sri Lanka. Ocean currents will carry the pollutants thousands of miles, adversely impacting the biodiversity essential for many animal and plant life forms.

A disastrous ship, however, is not the biggest environmental problem this island nation faces. Climate change is.

Sri Lanka is on the top ten list of nations currently most impacted by climate change. Floods and landslides frequently occur and are expected to increase. Given that nearly half its population resides in coastal areas, the inevitable sea level rise likely will force millions to move.

Millions more along the coasts of many nations will be seeking higher ground during the next decades, including residents of coastal communities on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Climate Central, a group of scientists publishing articles about climate science, including sea level rise, lists the USA among the ten countries “most in danger from rising sea levels.” The USA’s 332 million residents currently have a life expectancy for men and women about the same as residents of Sri Lanka.

The USA’s NOAA climate.gov website reports: “In the United States, almost 40 percent of the population lives in relatively high population-density coastal areas, where sea level plays a role in flooding, shoreline erosion, and hazards from storms. … In many locations along the U.S. coastline, high-tide flooding is now 300% to more than 900% more frequent than it was 50 years ago.”

When – by what date certain – will we begin to take steps to move people away from coastlines most vulnerable to sea level rise?