For Pacific countries like Kiribati, the threat of climate change means an uncertain future for the islands, and the people that occupy them.
Initial designs to sustain Kiribati’s population into the future were bold and futuristic.
Under Anote Tong’s presidency, Japanese engineering company Shimizu came up with an idea for lily pad-like floating islands. This then morphed into a type of spiralling, underwater glass village, which was designed to hold 50,000 people. Shimzu worked on the proposal for years, but it now seems dead in the water, and the Japanese company has been forced to suspend its business.
When Kiribati President Taneti Maamau took over in 2016, he came with very different ideas to Tong. Maamau rejected the former administration’s ‘migration with dignity’ mantra and instead focused efforts on adaptation.
It’s a little less futuristic than the Japanese plan, but if it works, it will buy much-needed time for Kiribati and all other landmasses facing an uncertain future thanks to climate change.
“Previously, they only had migration.... they technically did not have adaptation as an option. This is a game-changing project; it’s transformative.”
The project aims to reclaim 300 hectares (equivalent to three Wellington Airports) of land on Kiribati’s Temaiku Bight.
It will create a village sitting 2 metres above the highest projected 2200 sea level, hopefully buying 35,000 i-Kiribati another couple of hundred years in their homeland.
The project is expected to take 30 years to complete, in three main stages, and the land reclamation alone estimated to cost US$273 million ($408m).
There’s a lot of uncertainty in timeframes when it comes to the effects of climate change. But if the Government of Kiribati wants to continue to push ahead with this plan, it needs to start now.
Without a technological solution like this one, the people of Kiribati would have to migrate. Finally, they have a choice, he says.