Pacific News Minute: Kiribati’s Climate Change Challenges

Jul 6, 2015

Credit Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade / Flickr

President Anote Tong reminded the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week that whatever action the world decides to take on climate change will come too late for his country. The President of Kiribati delivered the keynote address to one of a series of meetings to prepare for the Conference on Climate change in Paris this fall.  Neal Conan has more in today’s Pacific News Minute.

Kiribati sprawls across a vast area of the Central Pacific, but includes just 310 square miles of increasingly salty land. One of the poorest countries on earth, it's home to just over a hundred thousand people, half of whom live on the atoll of Tarawa.

It's also one of the most difficult places on earth for agriculture.  The soil of the geologically young islands lacks critical nutrients and salinization makes the problem even worse. Two uninhabited islets have already disappeared beneath the waves and sea level rise is expected to claim the rest by the end of this century. As long ago as 2008, President Anote Tong declared that the country had reached the point of no return. He said, "to plan for the day when you no longer have a country is indeed painful, but I think we have to do that."

Micronesians settled the islands as early as 3,000 BC.  Followed by Polynesian and Melanesian invaders from Samoa, Tonga and Fiji. Britain seized control of what it called the Gilbert Islands.  Occupied by Japan at the start of the Second World War, the U.S. marines won the Gilberts back in the bloody Battle of Tarwara.  In 1943, remote Christmas Island was used for nuclear weapons tests by both Britain and the United States.

Kiribati is a transliteration of Gilberts, in the local language TI is pronounced as an "S"' so, in the islands, it's “Kiribas”.  Outside, most people say “Kiribati”.