Disappearing Places: Impacts of Rising Seas & Climate Change on Small Island States

Open Access
Murphy, McQuillin Douglas
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Roger Downs, Thesis Supervisor
  • Roger Downs, Honors Advisor
  • Deryck Holdsworth, Faculty Reader
  • Small island states
  • atoll
  • sea level rise
  • climate change
  • maldives
  • kiribati
  • climate refugees
  • island
  • international politics
  • geography
This thesis examines the reactions of small island states to the effects of climate change. Rising sea levels threaten to render many low-lying coastal environments uninhabitable and may even submerge entire states. Those states will have their population, society, and sovereignty jeopardized. The strategies by which states respond to the existential threat posed by rising seas fall into two overarching courses of action: adaptation and abandonment. This thesis profiles the responses of two states, the Maldives and Kiribati, to the threats posed by climate change. The Maldives uses primarily adaptation strategies and Kiribati uses primarily abandonment strategies. Small island states are some of the first places to be fundamentally changed by climate change, but certainly will not be the last. Understanding the reactions of those places, as well as the looming crises of sovereignty and human rights created by the submergence of states, is critical for the international community.