The Guardian Weekly
The people of Kiribati, a group of islands in the Pacific ocean particularly exposed to climate change, now own a possible refuge elsewhere. President Anote Tong has recently finalised the purchase of 20 sq km on Vanua Levu, one of the Fiji islands, about 2,000km away.
“We would hope not to put everyone on [this] one piece of land, but if it became absolutely necessary, yes, we could do it,” Tong told the Associated Press. Kiribati has a population of about 110,000 scattered over 33 small, low-lying islands extending over a total area of 3.5m sq km.
The island of Betio, on Tarawa Atoll — the most overpopulated part of the island nation — was the site of the bloody 1943 battle in which U.S. Marines ejected the Japanese to take an airfield as part of the “island hopping” campaign. The remains of some 400 Marines are still buried in lost graves on one-square-mile Betio.
In 2009 the Maldives were the first to raise the possibility of purchasing land in another country in anticipation of being gradually submerged. At the time the government looked at options in India and Sri Lanka.
Now Kiribati has taken action. “Kiribati is just the first on a list which could get longer as time passes,” says Ronald Jumeau, Seychelles ambassador at the United Nations, who took part in the international negotiations on climate change in Bonn last month.
In March the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published the volume on adaptation of its fifth assessment report, confirming in starker terms forecasts first outlined by scientists in 1990. Within a few decades, small islands in the Pacific and Indian oceans risk being extensively or even completely submerged. In places the sea level is rising by 1.2cm a year, four times faster than the global average.