[March 6, 2018]
2015 Sunhak Peace Prize laureate and Former President of Kiribati Mr. Anote Tong sat down with CNBC for an interview to talk about the future of Kiribati.
In the interview, Mr. Tong mentioned the technical wonders of Dubai's man-made made islands and the shining city of Singapore, and expressed that the technology and resources to raise up Kiribati's islands are out there but have not been made available to them. "It's going to require a lot of expertise and it's going to require a lot of resources. Thus far, nothing has been coming forward. The technology is there, the resources are there, but they're not coming forward and being made available."
When asked about his plans to relocate the Kiribati population our of the country, and whether other Pacific island nations are planning the same, Mr. Tong emphasized that the 'migration with dignity' plan was meant to be a last resort in case all other efforts to save Kiribati fail. To him it's better to "cover all the options, just in case one fails," because Kiribati "cannot afford to not have a plan B, or a plan C."
Above all, he stressed that it is the responsibility of the current generation to ensure the safety and security for the next generations: "It is our responsibility that we know what's happening, that we do something about it today. We must not wait for that to happen. Because if we do, then our people will definitely become climate refugees, because they will be running around trying to find a solution when we should be doing it in this generation."
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Scroll down to view the interview transcript
[Interviewer]: Singapore, where you are today, has declared that this year, 2018, is the year of Singapore's Climate Action. Singapore is in a very lucky and privileged position of having the financial firepower to be able to tackle climate change, which is something not all countries have. Which countries do you feel are leading this battle? Which countries do you think are getting it right?
[Anote Tong]: I have been involved in discussions with countries like the United Arab Emirates; we've seen what they've been able to do in their part of the world: building islands...
So, given the scenarios, the projections that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put forward, our islands will be uninhabitable in the decades ahead. The question is: How do we respond? How do we continue to stay above the waters? Will we have the capacity to adapt? The simple answer is that if we have to remain on the islands, we have to raise the islands.
So, it's going to require a lot of expertise and it's going to require a lot of resources. Thus far, nothing has been coming forward. The technology is there, the resources are there, but they're not coming forward and being made available.
During the time when I was in office, every time I went to a conference, I would hope to be able to come back to my people and say, "Don't you worry! I have the solution! The next time there is a high tide, we will have a place for you to be secure. The next time there is a storm, there is a place for you and your children to be able to stay above the storm." But that's not possible [right now].
I'm in Singapore right now; yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit some very amazing places. The innovation and the imagination and the kind of technology that's there really presents an opportunity which we have not seen. So, I think it's about getting all of this technology and all of the resources together.
It's always been my contention that the answer's out there. But, as a global community, we have not been able to put the political will together to make it happen.
[Interviewer]: It's a shocking thing for people to even contemplate that they might have to relocate elsewhere, leave their homes, because of rising tides. And I see that it's not just Kiribati; there are other islands in the Pacific which are in a similar situation, like the Marshal Islands, where they are less than 2 meters above sea level. So, Kiribati is making potential plans to relocate its people elsewhere. Are the other Pacific islands making such drastic plans as well?
[Anote Tong]: Let me be clear, because I'm often criticized on this: what I always planned was that we should, as far as possible, adapt and build climate resilience. But in the event that we are not able to do that to the extent that we can accommodate all of our people, we have to reconcile ourselves with the brutal reality that some of our people will have to be relocated.
So, we must not allow that to happen without doing anything about it. I've always been advocating a strategy of "migration with dignity" as a last option. I think all I've been doing is trying to cover all the options, just in case one fails, because we cannot afford to not have a plan B, or a plan C, or whatever it is. It's a matter of survival for our people.
But, of course, we must understand that today, in our generation, the problem is not really here. We are seeing some it, but it's not to the intensity that we can expect what's to come for the next generation or the one after.
So, we've got to keep planning ahead. It is our responsibility that we know what's happening, that we do something about it today. We must not wait for that to happen. Because if we do, then our people will definitely become climate refugees, because they will be running around trying to find a solution when we should be doing it in this generation.