Across the Pacific Ocean, tens of nations are taking a long, grim look at their future. Climate change is expected to cause ocean levels to rise at least thirty centimeters by the end of the century, possibly as much as two meters. For most nations this will be a tough environmental and economic fate as low-lying areas become inundated with salt water. But what do you do when climate change threatens not just your coasts, but your entire nation?
Pacific nations such as Kiribati, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and Fiji have already been acknowledged as particularly vulnerable to climate change. Changes in weather patterns, ocean acidity, temperature, and currents can cause crop failures, coral bleaching, and increasingly destructive storms. Storm surges and rising tides in particular are becoming a major problem. The flood of salt water erodes beaches and invades low-lying cropland, destroying food production. Even if cropland is saved, salt water can pollute the islands’ few natural sources of fresh drinking water.
But Kiribati and Tuvalu in particular are taking a grim stance on their future. Neither island stands much more than two meters above sea level and it is likely that climate change will make their land uninhabitable, if not outright submarine. Both nations are now starting to plan for their worst case scenario: full-scale evacuation of the nation.
In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Company, Kiribati’s President Anote Tong expresses his views:
ANOTE TONG: There’s a number of scenarios. We are programming for the worst possible case scenario – 50, 60 years. And so we have to think about that.
[ABC Reporter] KERRI RITCHIE: The President says his people have no options left – they must leave.
ANOTE TONG: Well, we have to find the next highest spot. At the moment there’s only the coconut trees. But I think we have to, in fact I’ve appealed to the international community that we need to address this challenge. It’s a challenge, I think not for any one single country but I think for the whole global community. Maybe we have a few decades to address this but we believe that we should begin to address the issue yesterday… We want to deny it, we don’t want to believe this, and our people don’t want to believe this. But it gives us a deep sense of frustration. What do we do?
Their government is currently in negotiations with New Zealand. They hope to be able to migrate to the larger island nation when the time comes.
Other nations are making similar plans.