The low-lying atolls of the Marshall Islands are increasingly and dramatically effected by climate change. Kili Island, one of the hardest hit areas in the Marshall Islands, continues to be inundated by flood waters due to rising sea levels. KBE officials are working with DOI-OIA officials and environmental experts to monitor conditions and assess options.
Even though the average elevation of atolls of the Marshall Islands sits at approximately 2 meters above sea level, the atolls and their inhabitants historically have been protected by coral reefs that provide a natural barrier and dissipates the destructive energy of high ocean waves. Though some flooding is expected during King Tides, the occurrence has become more commonplace and severe. Rising seas coupled with more frequent and violent storms across the Pacific due to climate change exacerbates this flood threat. Saltwater inundation contaminates fresh water aquifers and destroys much of the islands' agriculture, including rooting up trees.
According to the United States Geological Survey, which is monitoring the impact of rising-seas at Kwajalein Atoll--a location important to the U.S. Department of Defense and NASA because of its housing of the Reagan Test Site and the Space Surveillance Network--"climate changes during the 21st century will alter the strength and direction of the highest waves and strongest winds" in the Pacific. USGS monitoring has shown that due to climate change, coral reefs are being damaged by acidification and coral bleaching, which makes the coral smooth and mitigates the barrier-effect, which could render atolls uninhabitable within decades.
For the past decade the Marshall Islands has pressured the international community to focus on climate change and institute policies and regulations to mitigate its effects. In 2013 at the Pacific Island Forum meeting held in Majuro, the RMI and its Pacific partners issued the Majuro Declaration, which calls for urgent action by nations, corporations, and individuals to respond to "the social, economic, and security impacts of climate change to ensure the survival and viability of all Pacific small island developing States...."
In 2015 the Marshall Islands led the world to act on climate change through the United Nations Paris Climate Agreement. Signed by 175 nations, the Paris Agreement encourages each nation to reduce its use of hydrofluorocarbons and keep the global temperature rise in this century to below 2 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels. The agreement also recognizes the more ambitious goal of limiting temperature rise to under 1.5 degrees celsius, a level pushed by the RMI.