President Tong COP16

Kiribati reveals ‘human face of climate change’

President Tong COP16

Kiribati President Anote Tong with colleagues at COP16

Press release, Copenhagen, Denmark: 14 December 2009—Kiribati President Anote Tong says  history has seen nations lose their sovereignty and human rights through  warfare and actions of aggressive neighbours; the effects of climate  change will be just the same as if Kiribati had been attacked by a very  hostile and deadly enemy.

“The issue of climate change is the greatest moral challenge of  the 21st century,” says the President of Kiribati, Anote Tong, who  arrives in Copenhagen on 15 December.

“The world can no longer afford the consequences of inaction.   Low-lying states like Kiribati are already the human face of climate  change.”

“We are among the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.  Even a  marginal increase in sea levels will be disastrous for our country’s  future.”

“Only last week we experienced damaging storm surges and the  destruction of sea walls.  Ever worsening scientific forecasts bring us  little comfort; we directly experience higher tides and more frequent  storms, which bring saltwater intrusion and coastal flooding.  We have  long periods of drought, an endangered supply of fresh water, and  bleaching of the coral reefs that cradle our islands.”

“Increased flooding has already forced some of our villagers to  move inland – but this is a short trip, because our islands are so  narrow – there is no place to go.  If we keep moving back we fall into  the sea.”

“These countries are like the canary in the coal mine in terms of  the dramatic impact of climate change on a whole civilization of  people,” says Harvard University biological oceanographer James J. McCarthy. “They didn’t cause the problem, but they are among the first to feel it.

Spread over about 3.5 million square kilometres in the Central  Pacific, the Republic of Kiribati (pronounced “Kiribas”) lies midway  between Hawaii and Fiji. Formerly the Gilbert Islands under British  colonial rule, its three major island groups are home to 100,000 people.

Classified by the United Nations as “a least developed country,”  the economic development of Kiribati is severely constrained by its  dispersed and isolated atoll geography and narrow resource base.

“We find it very disturbing to hear international commentators  speak of our country and its continued welfare as being an issue of  ‘collateral damage’,” says the President.  “Climate change is a deeply  human issue – it is about the rights of a people to enjoy their  sovereignty, their dignity, their lifestyle and their culture.  It also  calls into question the effectiveness of our international organizations  to act on behalf of all members.”

“If we can mobilize trillions of dollars to address the challenges  to the global economy, then we are capable of taking the actions  necessary to deal with the challenges of the global environment.

“We are a proud people,” says the President.  “We do not come to  Copenhagen as beggars – that is not our way. But we cannot face this  huge challenge without international support – both practical and  moral.”

“In Kiribati, the Maldives, Tuvalu and the Marshalls, whole  communities face real danger – their survival is at stake – our own  survival is at stake as a people, as a unique and vibrant culture and as  a sovereign nation.”

“To turn your back and watch your neighbour go down when you could  have done something – I think that’s immoral, and calls into question  our humanity, and the way we treat each other as members of the human  family.”

“Along with our endangered partners we call upon all world leaders  to act with humanity and without delay, we call on the world media to  help raise our voice, and we call on all citizens of the planet to  address with real compassion, commitment and urgency the critical issues  we, the most vulnerable, are facing.”

For more information, please contact: Government Of Kiribati, Office Of Te Beretitenti (President), P.O. Box 68, Bairiki, Tarawa, Republic of Kiribati. Telephone: (686) 21183, Fax: (686) 21902