To many Americans, climate change is weird weather and political debate. For the nation of Kiribati, it’s an existential crisis.
Kiribati, an island nation located in the central Pacific, rises just a few feet above sea level in many areas. Elevating ocean levels could soon render the entire country uninhabitable.
With leading world economic powers doing little to combat climate change, Kiribati is drawing up contingency plans to relocate the country’s entire population to another island nation, Fiji, if necessary.
Kiribati President Anote Tong told The Associated Press on Friday that his Cabinet this week endorsed a plan to buy nearly 6,000 acres on Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu. He said the fertile land, being sold by a church group for about $9.6 million, could be insurance for Kiribati’s entire population of 103,000, though he hopes it will never be necessary for everyone to leave.
Tong said some villages have already moved and there have been increasing instances of sea water contaminating the island’s underground fresh water, which remains vital for trees and crops. He said changing rainfall, tidal and storm patterns pose as least as much threat as ocean levels, which so far have risen only slightly.
Some scientists have estimated the current level of sea rise in the Pacific at about 2 millimeters (0.1 inches) per year. Many scientists expect that rate to accelerate due to climate change.
Kiribati isn’t the only nation drawing up plans to leave their homeland if climate change continues unabated. Maldives, an archipelago nation south of India, could soon be wiped out by rising seas as well, forcing the government to consider evacuating the population to Australia.