Monday, June 14, 1999 Published at 18:13 GMT 19:13 UK
Islands disappear under rising seas
Rising waters threaten small island states
By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby
Two South Pacific islands have disappeared beneath the waves, as climate change raises sea levels to new heights.
They are Tebua Tarawa and Abanuea - which ironically means "the beach which is long-lasting" - in the island state of Kiribati.
Neither island was inhabited, though Tebua Tarawa was used by fishermen.
Swamped by the sea
The news is reported in the Independent on Sunday newspaper, which says predictions of the danger are coming true more quickly than anyone had expected.
The South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) says other islands are at risk, both in Kiribati and in nearby Tuvalu.
It says most of the coastline of the 29 atolls of the Marshall Islands is suffering erosion.
On one, second world war graves are being washed away.
Pressure on people
All three island groups have experienced severe flooding by storms and high tides, and populated islands are now being affected.
And even where the seawater is not a direct threat, livelihoods are being damaged as salt poisons the soil.
The small island states of the world contribute only 0.6% of all global warming pollution, but they are suffering disproportionately.
They cannot afford to protect themselves. To build a temporary sea wall for one Marshall Island atoll would cost $100 million, more than twice the wealth the country produces annually.
Warm water problems
In the Indian Ocean, the beaches of a third of the 200 inhabited islands of the Maldives are being swept away.
President Gayoom of the Maldives says: "Sea-level rise is not a fashionable scientific hypothesis. It is a fact".
Although considerable uncertainty still surrounds the probable impact of global warming, the best estimate is that sea levels will rise by about half a metre over the next century.
But the process is unlikely to stop then, because the rise in levels observed today is caused by warming that happened decades ago.
Today's warming, which is more serious, will cause levels to rise higher when it eventually makes its impact felt.
The chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is Robert Watson. He told the Independent on Sunday: "Once the process is set in motion, it cannot be slowed down in anything less than a few millennia".