Concern for the Most Vulnerable – Kiribati
A post from Frances Orchard CJ
Kiribati, a group of 33 islands mostly coral atolls spread over 3,500,000 sq. km of the Pacific Ocean, is particularly vulnerable to global warming. At a COP15 side event today people from Kiribati presented the many dilemmas facing them at the frontier of global warming. The islands (formally known at the Gilbert Islands) consist mainly of thin strips of coral reef just a metre or two above sea level. As carbon emissions from developed nations drive climate change the 77,500 islands face a grim future. They are already dealing with storm surges, coastal erosion, acidification of the coral reefs with disastrous consequences for their main industry – fishing, tree degradation, and a depletion of fresh water supplies. The governments of Australia and New Zealand have offered a re-location deal should the islands become uninhabitable, but for the indigenous people this is a last resort option. Kiribati is their homeland and the impact on them as a people should they be forced to abandon it is a daunting proposition. Well intentioned sympathizers have advised them to move inland, but there is no inland. Kiribati produces low carbon emissions and is not under any international obligation to reduce emissions; however, they are committed to seeking alternative sources of energy. Their problems have been generated by the global community and, as so often with the poor, they are the ones at the front line facing the consequences of other peoples action. The government is doing what it can to adapt to face the future – risk assessment strategies, exploring new water sources, education, re-skilling those who might in the future be forced to emigrate and who will need future job security. They are facing the unwelcome facts and adapting courageously, but whatever they do their fate in not in their hands. It is in the hands of the international community here at COP15. Only a drastic reduction of carbon emissions internationally will save Kiribati. The fate of the islanders demonstrates more than anything that global warming is not just a scientific or ecological issue – it is a human issue first and foremost. The frigate bird is the national icon of Kiribati. There is an old story about the frigate bird that flew off to find food for its young. When it returned the islands had gone. There was only water. Will this now be the fate of the Kiribati islanders too – and then, who next? The song of the frigate bird has as its refrain: ‘Rise up!’ Who will rise up on behalf of the weak and vulnerable?