Nation under threat

The Republic of Kiribati, an island nation in the central Pacific Ocean, faces the very real prospect of disappearing under rising sea levels by the end of the century. In this impassioned plea, its president calls for urgent action to avert disaster for this and other nations under climate threat

1st June 2015

The village of Tebikenikora, Kiribati, is easily submerged by high tides, which has led to an exodus of the local population.  © UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Nation under threat

The Republic of Kiribati, an island nation in the central Pacific Ocean, faces the very real prospect of disappearing under rising sea levels by the end of the century. In this impassioned plea, its president calls for urgent action to avert disaster for this and other nations under climate threat

By Anote Tong President of the Republic of Kiribati

Our world, the one and only home we have, is at a critical turning point. If we continue on this path without due consideration of the consequences of our blind pursuit of profits and short development gains, we risk causing our planet irreparable damage. At the core of this damage are lives, not only those of my people but of the rest of this global population.

As world leaders we have acknowledged that climate change poses challenges to all of us, if in varying degrees. As leaders we have also agreed that turning a blind eye to the issue and delaying any action to address it is no longer an option for our countries and our peoples. The recent Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, held in Sendai, Japan, and previous similar global and regional conferences are testament to the commitment at the global level to address climate change.

However, Cyclone Pam, which hit Vanuatu and Kiribati in March 2015, demonstrated that with the force of nature increasing in intensity and frequency, time is of the essence if we are really committed to ensuring a safe and secure future for our people. For my country, Kiribati, this was the first time in our history that the remnants of a cyclone had touched our shores, highlighting the delicate balance of our planet’s ecosystem. It also highlighted the realisation that our environment, our planet, does not have limitless capacity to absorb the demands and abuses subjected to it. Weather patterns are indeed changing, and for most of us they are changing for the worse.

My people, living on low-lying atoll islands no higher than three metres above sea level, are now facing major challenges never faced before: not only from the rise in sea levels but also, as evidenced by Cyclone Pam, from extreme weather patterns.

Any high tide coupled with strong winds wreaks havoc to our islands, our homes and our villages. In some parts of the country whole villages have had to be relocated due to severe coastal erosion. Food crops have been destroyed and the fresh water lens (our communities’ source of drinking water) contaminated by the intruding sea water.

Indeed our islands, our homes, may no longer be habitable – or even exist – within this century. The future of our children, our grandchildren and their children is at stake, with the very real prospect of the loss of their homes and identity as a people and a culture. Together with other low-lying atoll island nations such as Tuvalu, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Tokelau and the Maldives, we are on the frontline of this major calamity.

My people and my nation, my fellow small-island atoll nations – we can no longer afford to wait until the world makes a decision on what actions to take against climate change. Time is against us, with the future of men, women and children, whole cultures, communities, villages, cities and nations at stake.
Without exception, we all have a moral obligation to do what must be done individually and collectively to ensure the survival of our planet, our one and 
only home.