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Rising sea levels force nation’s relocation

In what could be the world’s first climate-induced migration of modern times, Anote Tong, the Kiribati president, said he was in talks with Fiji’s military government to buy up to 5,000 acres of freehold land on which his countrymen could be housed.

None of the coral atolls rises more than a few feet above sea level

Some of Kiribati’s 32 pancake-flat coral atolls, which straddle the equator over 1,350,000 square miles of ocean, are already disappearing beneath the waves.

Most of its 113,000 people are crammed on to Tarawa, the administrative centre, a chain of islets which curve in a horseshoe shape around a lagoon.

“This is the last resort, there’s no way out of this one,” Mr Tong said.

“Our people will have to move as the tides have reached our homes and villages.”

Mr Tong said the plan would be to send a trickle of skilled workers first, so they could merge more easily with the Fijian population and make a positive contribution to that country’s economy.

“We don’t want 100,000 people from Kiribati coming to Fiji in one go,” he told the state-run Fiji One television channel.

“They need to find employment, not as refugees but as immigrant people with skills to offer, people who have a place in the community, people who will not be seen as second-class citizens.

“What we need is the international community to come up with an urgent funding package to deal with that ambition, and the needs of countries like Kiribati.”

The land Kiribati wants to buy is understood to be on Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island.

Mr Tong’s proposal is the latest in an increasingly desperate search for solutions.

Last year he suggested the possibility of constructing man-made islands like oil rigs for people to live on.

His government has launched an Education for Migration programme, aimed at upskilling its population to make them more attractive as migrants.

Kiribati youngsters study for degrees at the University of the South Pacific, which is based in the Fijian capital of Suva and jointly owned by 12 Pacific island countries.

Dr Alumita Durulato, a lecturer in international affairs at the university, said: “They are already preparing quite well.

“They have educated their youth to be able to survive in the new lands that they want to go to.

“They are going to leave behind their culture, their way of life and lifestyle, which is a little bit different from ours in Fiji.”

Tarawa lies 1,400 miles from Suva and some i-Kiribati, as the islanders are known, hold concerns about whether their culture would survive after the population moves, especially if those who leave first are mainly the young.

A member of the Commonwealth, Kiribati was known as the Gilbert Islands until independence from Britain in 1979.

The islands were first named after Thomas Gilbert, a British naval captain who navigated the archipelago in 1788, Kiribati being the local pronunciation of “Gilbert”.

The total land area is 313 square miles and none of the coral atolls rises more than a few feet above sea level.

Source: Telegraph

1 comment to Rising sea levels force nation’s relocation

  • Jennifer Doherty

    Hello, This is such an excellent article,
    So if an island nation is submerged beneath the ocean, does it maintain its membership in the United Nations? Who is responsible for the citizens? Do they travel on its passport? Who claims and enforces offshore mineral and fishing rights in waters around a submerged nation? International law currently has no answers to such questions.
    United Nations Ambassador Phillip Muller of the Marshall Islands said there is no sense of urgency to find not only those answers, but also to address the causes of climate change, which many believe to be responsible for rising ocean levels.
    “Even if we reach a legal agreement sometime soon, which I don’t think we will, the major players are not in the process,” Muller said.
    Those players, the participants said, include industrial nations such as the United States and China that emit the most carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases. Many climate scientists say those gases are responsible for global warming. Mary-Elena Carr of Columbia University’s Earth Institute said what is now an annual sea level rise of a few millimeters will increase dramatically by the year 2100. “The biggest challenge is to preserve their nationality without a territory,” said Bogumil Terminski from the University of Geneva. International legal experts are discovering climate change law, and the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu is a case in point: The Polynesian archipelago is doomed to disappear beneath the ocean. Now lawyers are asking what sort of rights citizens have when their homeland no longer exists.
    t present, however, there appear to be at least three possibilities that could advance the international debate about ‘climate refugee’ protections and fill existing gaps in international law.
    The first option is to revise the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees to include climate (or environmental) refugees and to offer legal protections similar to those for refugees fleeing political persecution. A second, more ambitious option is to negotiate a completely new convention, one that would try to guarantee specific rights and protections to climate or environmental ‘refugees`.

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