National

Govt proposes renting
islands to refugees

With the impact of climate change likely to wipe some small islands off the map within the next 100 years, Indonesia is considering renting some of its uninhibited islands to international communities displaced by environmental disasters.

Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Freddy Numberi raised the idea in relation to concerns surrounding a possible rise in sea levels as climate change threatens low-lying countries.

"Pak Freddy still needs to consult President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono before going into detailed plans," the ministry's director general for coastal and small islands Syamsul Maarif told reporters Monday.

"But, it is a smart plan considering the severe threat rising sea levels pose."

A number of small-island states, including the Maldives, have begun purchasing new "homeland" in other countries for its citizens in case their islands begin disappearing in coming years.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted climate change will raise sea levels by nearly 60 centimeters by 2100 if nations do not make a concerted effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Most of the Maldives are currently just 1.5 meters above sea level, with the highest land point reaching less than 2.5 meters. This places the country at serious risk of being inundated by rising sea levels.

The Maldives comprises of nearly 2,000 islands grouped around 26 Indian Ocean atolls, though only 250 islands are inhabited. The country's population is estimated at 380,000.

Syamsul said it would be very possible for Indonesia to "trade" its islands since many of them were uninhabited and naturally safe from rising sea levels.

Renting islands using permit regulations is a common practice for the tourism industry nationwide.

Indonesia is currently made up of nearly 17,500 small islands.

"We have detected around 20 islands which have disappeared due to, among other reasons, rising sea levels prompted by climate change," Syamsul said.

"However, we constantly discover new islands."

Indonesia has 5.8 million square kilometers of sea, with coastlines stretching 81,000 kilometers. The seas provide homes and income to millions of people.

Scientists and climate change observers, including the Asian Development Bank, have predicted that rising sea levels will also inundate hundreds or even thousands of small islands in Indonesia.

Under a high emissions scenario, the ADB projected the annual temperature in Indonesia will increase by 4.8 degree Celsius by 2100 compared to 1990.

This in turn could lead to a 70 centimeter rise in sea levels over the same period.

Syamsul said more research into the impacts of climate change was necessary before such predictions could be made.

He also said the government had taken a series of steps to avoid remote small islands from vanishing.

"We have 92 islands which act as indicators of Indonesia's marine borders, 12 of which are vulnerable to rising sea levels," he said.

"But, we have taken a lot of mitigation measures, including planting mangroves around these islands."

Indonesia will host an international ocean forum in the North Sulawesi capital of Manado next week which will see government delegates and experts from 121 countries discussing the role of oceans in dealing with climate change.

Minister Freddy earlier said that the conference would discuss moves to help small islands cope with climate change.

Small-island states have repeatedly appealed to the international community for assistance dealing with climate change and urged developed countries to take a lead in cutting emissions.

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