Climate Change Conference

Kiribati islands will be swallowed by the ocean. COP21 is their last hope

The Republic of Kiribati is one of the most affected countries by climate change. By a few decades, it could be wiped from maps.

Anote Tong is the President of the Republic of Kiribati, an archipelago inhabited by over 100,000 people that could disappear due to climate change. He came to Paris aware of the fact that the UN global conference on climate, COP 21 is a matter of life or death for his country.


The Republic of Kiribati is likely to disappear

The 33 Equatorial islands that are part of this small nation and are located at an average altitude of two metres above sea level could be wiped from maps. Sea level rise caused by glacier melting could completely submerge them if the average global temperature of the atmosphere keeps on rising in the next decades.

“What is important is to be able to come away from these meetings with an agreement that will be able to guarantee the survival of people, whether rich or poor. And to ensure that the next generation be guaranteed a future”, Tong explained in a video message recorded ahead of the beginning of the conference. The situation is alarming. The president of Kiribati will try to convince the governments participating in the COP 21 to adopt an agreement that can curb global warming.


The ideas put forward include a giant floating island

In the meantime, the delegates are preparing for the worst by launching ambitious yet desperate projects: the ideas put forward include the construction of a giant floating island that could be home to as many as 30,000 people in a century. A group of Japanese engineers already visited these islands and tried to plan the project that will include the building of skyscrapers and tourist areas. But which will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, in order to try to – literally – stem the problem, Tong appealed to the Netherlands, United Arab Emirates and South Korea to understand if it’s possible to build dams and how to do it or to take sand from the ocean floor to increase the average altitude of the islands.



“I’m sure you think I’m crazy – he explained to the AFP agency at the end of the conference – but we’ve got a crazy situation. I don’t think we’ve other possibilities for us”. Actually, there is one. The most dramatic and sad, yet the one that most of the Kiribati people are increasingly taking into account: leaving their homeland. A survey conducted on almost 7,000 people living in this Micronesian republic along with people of two countries particularly threatened by climate change, Nauru and Tuvalu, was presented at COP21 on 2December. Results are disarming: 70% of the families libving in these islands state that they’re ready to escape.


Half of the population is “trapped” in the islands

The same survey (carried out by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific and the UN Institute for the Environment) reveals that just half the local population has the financial resources to migrate. Many citizens are modest fishermen who will be trapped in the middle of the ocean.


anote tong republic kiribati
The President of the Republic of Kiribati, Anote Tong, during a meeting in Japan © Yuriko Nakao-Pool/Getty Images


“We need to train our people – Tong adds – and to get them qualified according to international standards so that if they choose to migrate they can do so today”. That’s why the Republic of Kiribati already bought a plot of farming land of 2,000 hectares in the Fiji Islands. For now, this is used to supply food the inhabitants require. In the future, this could be a new country for Kiribatians.



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