Climate change is quickly altering the lives of I-Kiribati people. Photo by Josh Haner.
Climate change is affecting everyone, in every city, and every country. But how are the world’s most vulnerable nations dealing with the global change that will impact almost every aspect of their life?
Kiribati (pronounced Kee-ree-bas) is a nation comprised of 33 coral islands divided into three groups, the Gilbert, Phoenix, and Line Islands. As of 2019, it has a population of just 119,640 people, 60% being under 30 years old. It is one of the world’s lowest-lying nations, and its existence is being threatened by climate change. Two of its islands have already sunk as a result of the rising sea levels (or king tides as they are called in Kiribati), and more will follow if no government action is taken. Local people who have lived there for generations will soon have no choice but to move from their homes to higher grounds.
Recent climate research indicates that the world’s oceans could rise five to six feet (about 1.5-1.8 meters) by 2100, which would devastate the vast majority of Kiribati’s land which currently lies about six feet above sea level. This loss of land would bring even greater problems to Kiribati. Roads would sink underwater, having negative consequences on transport and resource distribution. Coral reefs would be severely damaged by warmer waters, which would attract less fish and vegetation. This would have a severe impact on the economy, which relies on fish and seaweed exports for much of its revenue. The population would also have less food, making it more dependent on aid from countries like Australia, Taiwan, and New Zealand. Moreover, the degradation of coral reefs would lead to stronger waves which would erode the coastline, further decreasing territory.
The studies also suggest that higher temperatures and rainfall fluctuations caused by climate change could lead to outbreaks of diseases such as dengue fever and ciguatera poisoning.
The government has responded by urging residents to move abroad in “migration with dignity” as they are calling it. Former president Anote Tong purchased 20 sq km of land from Fiji for displaced members of the population to take refuge in the event that their homes are destroyed.
Mangrove planting in Kiribati. Photo by Kennedy Warne.
But many people are not going down without a fight. I-Kiribati people are now looking for alternatives methods of ecosystem conservation such as mangroves, tropical trees with roots which grow above ground to form thickets. They grow in salt water and are an affordable means of protecting land from erosion.
The new government has a plan called Kiribati Vision 20, a long term project to gain revenue through fishing and tourism, which they are planning to use to improve education and reduce unemployment and poverty.
However, many worry that this plan to build hotels and attractions will not only reduce the land available for farming and villages but will contribute further to climate change and the pollution of the island chain, as well as drastically changing the lives of I-Kiribati people.
What will the future hold for island nations like Kiribati? Will the world finally realise climate change’s massive impact and make a change? Time will tell.