Don’t let rising seas drown the Marshall Islands
By Hilda Heine and Patrick Verkooijen
Hilda Heine is president of the Marshall Islands and chairs the Climate Vulnerable Forum. Patrick Verkooijen is chief executive of the Global Center on Adaptation and Managing Partner of the Climate Vulnerable Forum.
The Marshall Islands and other atoll countries in the Pacific will be the first nations to face extinction as a result of global warming. Rising sea levels could wipe them off the map in a matter of decades. Endless floods will make them uninhabitable even sooner. But, for purely selfish reasons, the world should not let them drown; the Marshall Islands have much to teach us about adapting to climate change.
This is not just a crisis affecting a few far-flung coral atolls and reefs. We should care about what happens to the nearly 55,000 Marshallese because a further 800 million people in hundreds of low-lying coastal cities throughout the world are in imminent danger of a similar fate.
Determined to act before it’s too late, the Marshall Islands are transforming themselves into a real-life laboratory for preparing for the effects of climate change. They are building sea walls, designing large coastal protection systems, integrating adaptation and resilience into national plans, and expanding capacity to store rainwater in both urban and rural communities. Planners are also exploring the possibility of raising new islands to physically increase the landmass above water.
The rest of the world can also help by accelerating adaptation strategies. Globally, each and every investment must be screened for its climate impact. New infrastructure that is not climate-proofed in its design is a liability. Existing technologies, such as climate-proofing buildings, safeguarding drinkable water through conservation, recycling and building new reservoirs should be scaled up. We must move rapidly to make use of innovations such as new saline-tolerant crop plants and satellites that can spot planet-warming methane leaks.