ISLAND NATION OF KIRIBATI AT RISK AS CLIMATE TALKS BEGIN
November 1, 2010
For Immediate Release
November 1, 2010
The World’s Most Vulnerable Nation:
Hear the Cry of Kiribati as This Nation Becomes a Victim of Climate Change
(Washington D.C., November 1, 2010) Preeminent climate scientist and noted environmental leaders speak out on behalf of the Kiribati Nation, calling upon world leaders who will gather this month at the Economic Summit in Seoul and U.N. Climate talks in Cancun to address the issue of water scarcity and its impact on food sources. James Hansen, world renowned climate scientist, Kathleen Rogers, President of Earth Day Network, and Rabbi Warren Stone, religious environmental activist who served as delegate at the U.N. climate talks in both Kyoto and Copenhagen, call for bold action to alleviate this and other manifestations of global climate change.
Dr. James Hansen warned, “Kiribati and the Micronesian Islands epitomize the global warming story: actions now have effects decades in the future. It is now too late to avoid small sea level rise wiping out some Pacific islands, but we can and must avoid wiping out the land and lives of hundreds of millions of people and species.”
Rabbi Warren Stone, who will soon be attending a world religious leaders’ Spiritual Forum in Seoul organized by the Global Peace Initiative of Woman, concurrent with the G20 Economic Summit of world leaders, relayed, “The most vulnerable nations of the world, particularly Kiribati and the Micronesian Islands, are currently facing a severe crisis of water shortages and the resulting disappearance of their food systems. Within decades, many other nations will be facing these same water and food issues. The Micronesian Island nations are the world’s first environmental refugees. It is the moral responsibility of world leaders, both at the Economic Summit in Seoul and the UN climate talks, to act now to protect future generations and the world’s creation from climate devastation.”
Kathleen Rogers, who will soon be attending the U.N. climate talks in Cancun, urged,
“In the absence of a global agreement on climate, our leaders must turn the COP 16 into a referendum on funding to protect developing nations from the disabling and destructive impacts of global warming. Anything short of full funding will seal the fate of not just Kiribati and the Micronesian Islands, but other at risk nations. It leaves the developed nations defending their economies and way of life at the expense of millions of people and species.”
Kiribati, a Micronesian island of roughly 100,000, sits precariously on the very front lines of climate change. Located in the Pacific Ocean, Kiribati straddles the Equator. The tiny nation is composed of one island and 32 smaller atolls, islets of coral, which circle a lagoon. In 1999, two Kiribati islets, Tebua Tarawa and Abanuea disappeared underwater. Another of Kiribati’s islets, Tuvalu, has lost its coconuts trees, a major food staple, because the seawater has salinated the fresh water sources. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that the sea levels around Kiribati will rise by about half a meter (20 in) by 2100 or earlier due to global warming and that a further rise is inevitable. It will be the first nation of the world to disappear completely.
As Kiribati falls victim to climate change, we are reminded that one of the most urgent issues of our day is access to fresh water. Pacific Ocean waters are increasingly encroaching onto and salinizing the island. Salt water is seeping into the ground soil, destroying both the edible crops and the fresh water table underneath the island that has sustained its inhabitants and all life forms for centuries. The drinking water procured from streams and rains is also becoming salinized. The island people must now either import water and food for their families or become refugees leaving their nation.
Relocation is inevitable. Kirabati’s youth are now headed to New Zealand and Australia to train for their professions and to start their lives elsewhere. The Kiribati president, Anote Tong, like President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, is exploring places for relocation with respect and dignity for the 100,000 people of Kiribati. Acutely aware of their demise as a nation, they are even developing a national gene bank to preserve their DNA. Ironically, a landscape, which has infused Kiribati life and culture, now threatens it.
The ravages of climate change are already impacting the Kiribati nation in frightful ways. Minister of the Environment of Kiribati, Michael Foon, addressed delegates at the UN Copenhagen talks: “Our children have no water!” How many more of our children will die because they have no access to fresh water?” Jesse Lambourne, a Kiribati native, spoke passionately: “We do not want to lose our homeland; we want to live in our country, our country called Kiribati! They tell us to leave the coast and leave our homeland. If our whole country is coastal area, where do you move? Our land is our spiritual connection to our ancestors, our culture, our memories — we are fighting to maintain our land as a people.”
Lambourne closed with this personal plea: “Help us, help us, tell the world our story!” The Kiribatians offered each delegate a shell necklace from their island and asked that they be remembered. They closed with a haunting song about the frigate, the national bird of Kiribati. The mother bird goes off from the island to find food for its young. When it returns, the island is gone.
Call for Action
Hansen, Stone and Rogers join in response to the Kiribati plea and call on world leaders to act with a sense of urgency and moral purpose. “Remembering Kiribati” means awareness of the larger threats of cultural annihilation that climate change will bring to the most vulnerable. Climate change will present us with the most fundamental moral challenge that humanity faces in our century. It is imperative that we recognized that now is the time to address global water issues and develop international water management programs.
About James Hansen
James Hansen brought global warming to the world’s attention in the 1980s, when he first testified before Congress. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, an adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University and at Columbia’s Earth Institute, and Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, he is frequently called to testify before Congress on climate issues. Dr. Hansen’s background in both space and earth sciences affords a broad perspective on the status and prospects of our home planet. His new book is entitled, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity.
About Rabbi Warren Stone
Rabbi Warren Stone served as an NGO delegate at the Copenhagen COP15 in 2009 and at the Kyoto COP5 1997 climate talks. Rabbi Stone is known for his work on spirituality and the environment. He currently Co-chairs the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care and serves on the Global Advisory Committee for Earth Day Network. He was recently returned from speaking at the US Embassy to the Holy See and the Pontifical Gregorian University conference, “Building Bridges of Hope” in Rome on the topic “Caring for the Environment” at a Conference on Interreligious Action to address Global Challenges and will join a world religious delegation sponsored by Global Peace Initiative of Women in Seoul concurrent with the G20 Economic summit. http://www.templeemanuelmd.org/aboutus/staff/rabbi_stone/
About Kathleen Rogers
Kathleen Rogers, President of Earth Day Network, has worked for more than 20 years as an environmental attorney and advocate, focusing on public policy, international law, litigation, and community development. Under Rogers’ leadership, Earth Day Network has taken the lead in defining the “new environmentalist” of the 21st century, transforming EDN into a dynamic team of year round activists that is reaching out to new constituencies, including young people and people of color, and integrating civic participation into each of our programs and activities.
Contact: Lisa Swann 202 518-0044 ext. 14 [email protected]