Loading...
Kiribati and Climate Change
Now Watching
Kiribati and Climate Change

As the world's easternmost nation, Kiribati (pronounced "kiri-bas") gained attention in 2000 as the first land to welcome in the new millennium. Now, according to dire predictions, the tiny Pacific country could be about to claim another record: the first to become uninhabitable due to climate change, possibly as soon as 20 years from now.

Flash Player 9.0.115+ or HTML5 video support is required to play this video.
 
Loading...

Learn more about the World Bank Kiribati Adaptation Project.

Find out more about AusAID.

Loading...

Share this video

Include start time Get current time
Include related videos, articles & actions
Loading...

Segment 1

VOICEOVER
Located on the Equator, adjoining the international dateline, Kiribati is a nation made up of 33 coral atolls. Around 100,000 people live here, with half of them crowded into one island, South Tarawa -- an island 16 square kilometers in area and only 450 meters at its widest point, supporting a population density similar to Hong Kong. A lot of people, a small space, and an isolated region, making sustainability a real issue. But the most interesting dimension of all is the average height above sea level: less than two meters. The nation's president, Anote Tong, is warning the world Kiribati could become the first country to fall victim to climate change.
ANOTE TONG [President of Kiribati]
Previously I thought 2060 would be safe, maybe getting too close to the edge. But now it seems that it might be a lot earlier; I think 2030 might be more realistic. But I think the response has to be much earlier than that.
INTERVIEWER
When you say 2030, are you saying as soon as 20 years, perhaps?
ANOTE TONG
I think virtually, yes, the next 20 years.
VOICEOVER
Global warming is being blamed for changing weather patterns, rising sea levels, and an increase in storm surge activity, tearing away at the coastline; coconut and breadfruit trees dying as salination claims previously fertile land; climate change exacerbating issues the country has faced for centuries due to drought and limited fresh water. Add in overpopulation and it's a recipe for disaster.
ARTA [Abaiang Island Elder]
I can feel that the sun is getting hotter and at the same time I feel there has been an increase in the level of the seawater
VOICEOVER
Arta's lived on Abaiang for more than 50 years, watching parts of his island completely disappear during storms, projected to become more intense as the climate changes.
EMIL SCHULZ [Former Public Works Minister]
It's very fragile, 200 meters is actually nothing, you know? That can go in a matter of hours of strong winds and high tides here.
REPORTER
If what appears to be the effect of climate change continues to take its course here in Kiribati, it won't be rising sea levels inundating the land that drives these people from the islands. Lack of a water supply will be the major issue, as the combined effects of erosion, storm surges, and drought continue to take their toll on an already fragile system.
MARELLA REBGETZ [Climate Change Adaptation Worker]
The country will be uninhabitable long before it's underwater.
VOICEOVER
Marella Rebgetz is engaged in an Australian-supported program aimed at adapting the country to climate change, working with the Kiribati government to increase understanding of the impacts and developing appropriate responses.
MARELLA REBGETZ
There is no above-ground water in Kiribati. It's all in the water lens.
VOICEOVER
Fresh water is drawn from wells sunk into the lens -- a zone of clean water below the surface of the island.
MARELLA REBGETZ
Most places are only a meter, meter-and-a-half deep, and so if anybody has toilets nearby, if they have pigs nearby, if they've buried grandma nearby, all the waste can easily penetrate the water lens, so it's very fragile
VOICEOVER
A fragility further threatened by storms and resulting erosion. As islands shrink, so too does the water supply.
EMIL SCHULZ
People have actually had to move further inland so they can get access to better ground water.
VOICEOVER
One of the President's responses is training programs enabling young people to develop skills and become more attractive migrants. Examples include a Maritime Training College for sailors and the new Australian government-funded Kiribati Australia Nurses' Initiative being run through Griffith University in Queensland.
NURSING STUDENT
So what's the point of going back when Kiribati is sinking or getting vanished or submerged?
ANOTE TONG
If we are losing our homeland, potentially our culture, surely we can at least try to maintain our dignity in moving to the new adopted countries. And so the way to do it is to train our people.
VOICEOVER
But it's not that straightforward for everyone and it's an issue being debated across the Pacific: the people of Kiribati are not alone in facing an uncertain future.
SISTER CLAIRE ANTEREA [Our Lady of Sacred Heart Church]
Old people, they don't want to change. They still always want to be where they are, but young people now, they want to move, to move on.
VOICEOVER
In this deeply Christian country, climate change is a regular topic of Sunday homilies. Those subscribing to the Old Testament have their own theories on rising sea levels.
KAIARAKE TABURUEA [Kiribati Adaptation Project worker]
According to the bible, God promised Noah that there would be no second flood.
VOICEOVER
In the meantime, life goes on. The people of Kiribati are not giving up: their land, their culture, and pride are far too important. But when the world gathers at the climate change conference in Copenhagen later this year, expect to hear more of President Anote Tong.