The ice at the earth’s polar regions is the largest store of fresh water on the planet and plays an imperative role in maintaining earth’s environmental balance. As ice in these regions melts, it affects the ocean height, temperature, and circulation — which, in turn, gradually changes earth’s climate. Myanmar is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world due to climate change. Besides its major problem of armed insurgencies, Myanmar’s vulnerability to climate change is very alarming. The overall economic development of the country is likely be troubled to a considerable extent in near future by the adverse affects of climate change.
Among the major impacts of the climate change – particularly of the global warming – the increasing rise in sea-levels every year has been the most alarming one so far, with the possibility of submerging a substantial portion of ‘flood-prone’ coastal areas of Myanmar under water by 2050 (a prediction made in the 4th assessment report by the International Panel on Climate Change or IPCC). The major cause behind the rise in sea-level is the melting of ice of different regions, mostly of the south and north poles.
The global warming is one of the major incentives for climate change. It is a global phenomenon causing much damage to the resources of the globe, making life of the living beings, including human, miserable. Global warming has caused the weather of different regions to change drastically and disproportionately. Ice is melting rapidly in the ice-covered regions because of this global warming. Melting of ice, without any doubt, causes the sea-levels to rise. The effects of the continuation of the rise in sea-levels are deep. It would submerge many areas around the globe, especially the coastal ones; and perhaps it will not take decades for the coastlines to change.
The rise in sea-levels has been causing more floods, especially during storms. Higher sea-levels have increased the size of the flow of water that the super storms generally bring into inland from the ocean. Some short term impacts of rise in sea-level (especially due to polar ice melting) are regularly experienced these days by many victims around the globe. The Tsunami is an ideal example of what sort of disaster the rise in sea-level, caused by melting of polar ice, could lead us up to.
The North Pole is the northernmost point on the globe and located amid waters of the Arctic Ocean. The whole region is generally referred to as the Arctic region, which is warming faster than other areas across the globe. In this region, temperature has increased over the decades by an alarming rate compared to the rest of the globe, and it seems that temperature in this region will continue to increase if measures are not taken to reduce this increasing trend. The warming atmosphere, along with a changed weather-pattern, is causing Arctic ice to melt at such alarming rapidity that a greater portion of Arctic ice will be gone in next two decades, and an ice-free Arctic summer could be experienced by next four decades, as claimed by the experts in this field. The ice of the region is already reduced by as much as 50% compared to the 1950s. The impacts of declining ice-cover in the Arctic are far-reaching, from species endangerment to the weakening of global ocean circulation, to massive rise in sea-levels.
Since the Arctic region was inaccessible because of the layers of thick ice, there were less territorial disputes until the beginning of this century. However, the rapid melting of ice in the region is making it a more accessible zone for commercial fishing, fresh water, minerals, coal, iron, copper, oil, gas and shipping. Arctic states – Canada, Denmark (via Greenland), Russia, Norway and the U.S. – are in rush to exploit all these opportunities. Their rush will only increase the warming of the region through their presence, through the external materials or organisms that they bring into the region with them and through their drilling for energy extraction from the region.
While the North Pole is located amid waters of an ocean, the South Pole lies on a continental land mass. The Antarctica Continent and the Antarctic Ocean make up the surroundings of the South Pole, and the region is widely referred to as the Antarctic region. Thousands of tourists and researchers visit the region, especially the Antarctic Peninsula, every year. More scientists, more tourists, more research stations, more countries involved in exploration for mineral and other resources, and greater access to the region in general are making the region increasingly warmer. Moreover, an increase in visitors means more boats/ships, other external materials brought by them, more carbon dioxide and so on. Therefore, the disturbances to the region’s fragile environment are ever increasing with these pollutions. The carbon emissions in the far away human inhabited areas are also contributing to the increasing warming of the Antarctic region.
The region is governed by the Antarctic Treaty System, a series of international agreements that regulates research and tourism related to the region. However, such a legal regime is too weak to legally bind countries not to exploit the region. Therefore, there is every possibility that the need for fossil fuels and mineral resources might urge countries to take such actions in this region that would pollute the cold, yet so clean, Antarctic region.
Impact in Myanmar
Melting of polar ice is scary for many reasons, and the scariest is the rise in sea-level, as mentioned earlier. In long run, the coastline and coastal cities will be lost. But in the short term, it will cause more damage through floods and powerful storms that might bring water into inland with them, causing devastation like that of the Tsunami.
With flat and low-lying landscape, the whole coastal area of Myanmar is highly vulnerable to such floods and storms. A sizable portion of Myanmar’s population live in the coastal areas, where majority of the population are affected, directly or indirectly, by coastal floods or tidal flows, salinity, tropical cyclones, erosion of river-bank etc. With the rise of sea-level “even by a metre”, Myanmar could lose a substantial percentage of its total coastal landmass under the sea water, turning millions of inhabitants living in the coastal areas of Myanmar into climate refugees.
Moreover, the freshwater sources in the coastal areas of Myanmar face deep intrusion of saline water from the Bay of Bengal during the dry season. The melting of polar ice in its gradual process will only deteriorate the existing situation to a great extent.
German scholars from Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research warned that if incentives of the global warming, especially the carbon emissions in the atmosphere, are not reduced immediately worldwide, a series of unstoppable events will be triggered, causing dramatic rise in sea-levels and the total annihilation of coastal cities inhabited by millions of people. This of course does not exclude Myanmar. While this is a comparatively long term impact of global warming, or of melting of polar ice to be precise, Myanmar is likely to experience more ‘immediate’ adverse impacts, as mentioned earlier. Agriculture, industry, school, hospitals, roads, bridges, livelihoods, marine resources, forestry, biodiversity, human health and other utility services will suffer severely.
All in all, earth’s temperatures are rising, the ocean water is warming, polar ice is melting, and sea levels are going up. It is high time for Myanmar to start working on real solutions along with other most affected countries. Myanmar must start addressing these above mentioned concerns with utmost urgency in the global platforms.