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Climate Change May Displace an Entire Pacific Island Nation

March 15, 2012

The president of the Republic of Kiribati, Anote Tong, recently announced that his cabinet has endorsed a plan to buy 6,000 acres of land on the main island of nearby Fiji with the intention of moving the entire 103,000-strong population there. As Kiribati is an archipelago nation near the equator with lush beaches and average year-round temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees, why would anyone want to abandon such a paradise?

"Moving won't be a matter of choice," President Tong told the Associated Press. "It's basically going to be a matter of survival."

The majority of Kiribati is only a few meters above sea level, and has already begun to see the effects of climate change on its shores. Scientists have measured sea level to rise approximately 2 millimeters per year in the Pacific, which means it could be years before the ocean begins encroaching on the coastline.

However, the rising sea level affects other fundamental elements of Kiribati life:

  • A growing number of instances of fresh groundwater becoming contaminated by seawater.
  • Changing rainfall, tidal and storm patterns.

President Tong said his nation's move to Fiji would be funded by money Kiribati made from phosphate mining in the 1970s.

Karibati has been in the news for some years because its islands are so susceptible to rising waters, as shown in a 2008 PBS report, yet climate change has affected other island and coastal nations around the world. Some stirring examples: