Which country will be most affected by the steady rise of the seas? Which country could see more than a 10th of its population displaced, a 10th of its economic power crippled and a 10th of its towns and cities swamped by the end of this century?
The answer, which may surprise you, is Vietnam, named by the World Bank as the nation with the most to lose as global warming forces the oceans to reclaim the land.
Just a 1m rise in sea level would flood more than 7 percent of the country’s agricultural land and wreck nearly 30 percent of its wetlands, the bank says.
And the situation could be worse than that. A 1m rise in sea level is at the conservative end of the predictions for the year 2100. Some climate experts, including Jim Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, argue that the likely rise should be measured in several meters.
A 1m rise would still be enough to cause chaos. In a study recently published in the journal Climatic Change, the World Bank says such a rise would impact on about 0.3 percent of the territory — some 194,000km² — of 84 developing countries. That might not sound much, but it would affect about 56 million people. Coastal populations across poorer countries generally do better economically, so the surge in the seas would impact on GDP even more — about 1.3 percent.
The study, which summarizes the findings of a 50-page briefing paper published by the bank last year, comes as campaigners call for rich countries to do more to help the developing world adapt to the inevitable effects of climate change.
Heather Coleman, senior climate change policy adviser with Oxfam, says: “Helping vulnerable people cope with the effects of climate change is desperately needed today because they already face increasingly severe and ever-worsening climate change impacts.”
The charity released a report last week that called for at least US$50 billion a year to be channeled from international carbon trading schemes into adaptation efforts.
“With a global financial crisis unfolding, these mechanisms could raise enough money from polluters without governments having to dip into national treasuries,” Coleman says. “Many negotiators agree that this is one of the more practical approaches. Billions of dollars can be raised and invested to prevent future climate change and to help poor people adapt to the negative impacts of global warming.”
Oxfam says poor countries need help to upgrade national flood early-warning systems; plant mangrove “bio-shields” along coasts to diffuse storm waves; and grow drought-tolerant crops.
The report comes as ministers are due to arrive at UN talks in Poznan, Poland, to continue negotiations on a new global climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol. With little progress on new carbon targets expected until the new US administration makes its position clear next year, adaptation could be a key issue at Poznan.
“It is extremely important for negotiators in Poznan to reach a broad understanding about how best to raise adaptation money, because they have paid lip service to the issue for too long,” Coleman says. “It is a vital part of the overall deal, a litmus test of how serious rich countries are in tackling the problem.
“Poor people around the world bear the brunt of climate change, and yet they are least responsible for global warming. Even during tempestuous financial times, rich countries can and should help poor people to cope. We can’t afford to exchange a short-term saving for a long-term disaster,” he says.