President Anote Tong has a problem. He leads a country which is very seriously threatened by climate change. The incursion of sea water into the islands’ drinking water is real and as most of the coral atolls are only a few metres above sea level, a rise in sea level means the end of the country.
So what do you do? Clearly trying to persuade the world’s major emitters to stop destroying your country isn’t working.Tong has been very active.
Tong was educated in Christchurch and has spoken in the city a number of times. His country has 101, 000 people and as he sees it, they need to start moving. Even worse the climate change they will need to flee is not of their making. But then climate change has very little justice attached to it.
The life span in the island is only 65 years and the country is very Christian so there are many that think that God will provide. But President Tong is persuaded by the science , and basically if you are born in Kiribati now you are very unlikely to be able to live out your life in that place. Your country becomes uninhabitable. And he knows its better to plan this a few years in advance.
In a fairly radical move the Kiribati government is looking at buying up to 23 square kilometres of land on Fiji’s Vanua Levu as a potential new home, but they are looking also to other countries. New Zealand is one of those. New Zealand allows in 75 people from Kiribati each year and Tong wants that increased in recognition of the problem. It’s the same quota as Tuvalu with a population of 10,000 has . Kiribati has over 100,000.
As President Anote Tong says:
“For adolescents in the Republic of Kiribati, climate change is not up for debate – it is real and it is happening now. Our young people feel its impact whenever high tides flood their houses; they taste its effects as their drinking water becomes salty. Rising sea levels, which have already brought pools of brackish water to the doorsteps of many homes, are consuming our tiny islets, contaminating our vegetable gardens and poisoning our freshwater wells.
Kiribati is a Pacific island country with a total land area of 811 square kilometres. We have 33 atolls and reef islands, which are home to over 97,000 people – nearly half of whom are children. Global warming will change the lives of our young people in more ways than we can imagine. In 30 to 40 years, their nation, their home may no longer be habitable – it may not even exist. It is time to face facts. We need to act swiftly and decisively to minimize the adverse impact that climate change is having and will continue to have on Kiribati.
Global warming destroys our ability to grow the variety of foods required to provide our children with a balanced and nutritious diet. Resources are diverted away from their education and health as expenses to maintain basic infrastructure increase due to the encroaching sea. Climate change is eating away their future and putting their physical and mental development at risk. Failure to react to climate change now will result in high cultural, social and financial costs. For low-lying countries, such as Kiribati, which are at the frontline of climate change, the threat it poses is real and immediate. The economic disruption could be catastrophic, even requiring the population to relocate to other countries.”
It’s a terrifying thing to think your country will disappear and the challenges that go with that.
It’s not only Kiribati.
It’s a problem that will face many small island states and the issue of climate change refugees will be a huge issue for all of us.
Article by Vicki B., appearing courtesy Celsias.