Fearing that climate change could wipe out their entire Pacific archipelago, the leaders of Kiribati are considering an unusual backup plan — moving the populace to Fiji.
Kiribati President Anote Tong told The Associated Press on Friday that his Cabinet this week endorsed a plan to buy nearly 6,000 acres on Fiji's main island, Viti Levu. He said the fertile land, being sold by a church group for about $9.6 million, could provide an insurance policy for Kiribati's entire population of 103,000, though he hopes it will never be necessary for everyone to leave.
“We would hope not to put everyone on one piece of land, but if it became absolutely necessary, yes, we could do it,” said Mr. Tong. “It wouldn't be for me, personally, but would apply more to a younger generation. For them, moving won't be a matter of choice. It's basically going to be a matter of survival.”
Kiribati, which straddles the Equator near the International Date Line, has found itself at the leading edge of the debate on climate change because many of its atolls rise just a few feet above sea level.
Mr. Tong said some villages have already moved and there have been increasing instances of sea water contaminating the fresh ground water. Some scientists have estimated the level of sea rise in the Pacific at about two millimetres per year. Many scientists expect that rate to accelerate due to climate change.
Fiji, home to about 850,000 people, is about 2,200 km south of Kiribati. But just what people there think about potentially providing a home for thousands of their neighbours remains unclear. Mr. Tong said he's awaiting parliamentary approval for the land purchase, which he expects in April, before discussing the plan formally with Fijian officials.
Mr.Tong has been considering other unusual options to combat climate change, including shoring up some Kiribati islands with sea walls and even building a floating island. He said this week that the latter option would likely prove too expensive, but that he hopes reinforcing some islands will ensure that Kiribati continues to exist in some form even in a worst-case scenario.