Managing the Sinking Feeling: How Rising Sea Levels Will Endanger Energy Security

The world’s oceans are heating up and even climate change sceptics are struggling to deny it. In May 2016, six of the land masses which form the Solomon Islands vanished off the world map without a single trace, and with sea levels predicted to rise by between 9 and 88 cm by 2100, the forecast for surrounding states is equally as bleak. While for many island inhabitants, the prospect of farewelling their home is becoming an increasingly daunting reality, so too are the inevitable implications for energy security.

Although low lying regions such as the Maldives and even Japan will be most susceptible to energy infrastructure damage caused by severe weather disasters, this by no means implies that other states are immune from effects more generally. As former island residents are confronted with renewed status as “climate-displaced people,” neighbouring states will be equally confronted by the challenges that an unprecedented mass environmental migration pose for the energy sector. As refugees are absorbed and populations dramatically increase, so too will the demand for energy, presenting a complex puzzle of securing increased supplies while simultaneously refraining from exacerbating the problem through the production of emissions. While Kiribati has already begun “doomsday” preparation, having purchased a small portion of territory from Fiji 1930 km away to sustain its population of 105,000, the options for more densely populated regions, including the coastlines of some of the most developed nations, are limited to say the least. And judging by the treatment of the present day immigration “crises”, reluctance, rather than acceptance, on the part of host states seems the most likely outcome.

But such challenges are really only the tip of the iceberg. Increasing global temperatures have caused glaciers to melt and coastlines to recede, both of which will likely jeopardise the existing makeup of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). An already fiercely contested topic, according to Cleo Paskal, Director of the Oceania Research Project, shifting EEZs could have serious implications for those countries who currently hold exclusive rights over offshore natural resources, such as Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal, who could potentially lose waters rich in hydrocarbons to India in the West and Myanmar in the East.

And yet, despite the fact that such effects will be felt globally in cities from Miami to Osaka to Alexandria, it is really only those at the frontline who are pushing for change. While Trump ridicules the Paris Agreement, the 51 nations which make up the coalition of the Small Island Developing States lead the way in salvaging what is left of the now severely debilitated accord. Ironically enough, it may very well be those countries producing almost zero greenhouse gas emissions which will act as the beacon of light. However, according to a spokesperson of Kiribati, “even if other countries decide to cut their emissions – in 30 to 50 years, our islands will be inundated,” meaning for some, it is already too late.

Victoria Hospodaryk


Abadi, Mark. “These island nations could be underwater in as little as 50 years.” Business Insider, December 30, 2015.

Bush, Martin. J. Climate Change Adaptation in Small Island Developing States. Oxford: John Wiley & Sons, 2018.

Chartered Insurance Institute. Future risk: Climate change and energy security – global challenges and implications. London: CII, 2019.

Goldstone, Heather and Elsa Partan. “Here’s What Happens if your Island Nation Goes Underwater.” WCAI, December 10, 2015.

Nuwer, Rachel. “What happens when the sea swallows a country?” BBC, June 17, 2015.

Paskal, Cleo. “How climate change is pushing the boundaries of security and foreign policy.” Chatham House, June 2007.

Reuters. “Five Pacific islands lost to rising seas as climate change hits.” The Guardian, May 10, 2016.

Sadat, Nemat. “Small Islands, Rising Seas,” UN Chronicle 44, no. 3&4 (2009): 1-8.


Photo by Syd Sujuaan on Unsplash


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