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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Urgent Bid for Survival

Air Date: Week of
Kiribati president, Anote Tong, with host Steve Curwood. (Photo: Jennifer Stevens)

The urgent needs of countries already affected by climate change need to be addressed by the global community. And perhaps nowhere is that urgency more stark than in Kiribati, a small Pacific Island nation at risk of being swallowed by rising seas. Host Steve Curwood speaks with the president of Kiribati, Anote Tong, about what's at stake.


CURWOOD: The end of this Climate summit in Cancun Mexico felt like déjà vu—folks wrangling, wheeling and dealing, deciding once more to decide the big stuff next year. But the climate itself didn’t wait; it continues to change. Kiribati is a small Pacific Island nation that’s just six feet above sea level, and every day a bit more disappears. Anote Tong is the president of Kiribati. I asked him how he would sum up this summit.

The small Pacific island country of Kiribati is already feeling the affects of climate change. (Photo: Toes in the Sand 1)

TONG: Well, I think it’s important to emphasize that time is running out. Not just with the wider cushion of climate change crisis, but I think that there are countries now- this would include the most vulnerable, which are already feeling the impact of what is happening.

I was in Parliament last week, and I was getting requests which have been happening virtually every Parliament, for government to provide protective seawalls, because buildings are already on the verge of being washed away. Already some have been washed away and some villages, communities, have had to be relocated. And, so, these are already happening. And so, it’s not about tomorrow, things that are going to happen, but it’s about things that are already happening.

CURWOOD: In terms of what has happened here in Cancun, is it enough, today, for what needs to be done?

TONG: There has to be agreement on addressing the more urgent needs of those countries which are already being affected. If that is not addressed, then there is no point to the negotiations, because it will be too late for some of us.

CURWOOD: In terms of finance, Ban Ki-Moon set together this panel, advisory panel, to come up with an international plan- what do you think of this?

Kiribati president, Anote Tong, with host Steve Curwood. (Photo: Jennifer Stevens)

TONG: Well, there are a lot of pledges made in Copenhagen. We did not sign the Copenhagen Accord because it did not meet the requirements, the minimum requirements that would ensure our survival. But, we subsequently associated with it, on the basis that it would trigger the flow of fast funds. Nothing has flowed until now. So, we do need funds urgently to meet these requirements.

CURWOOD: So, wait a second, here you are, the president of Kiribati, a country that is, at best six feet above sea level, all this promise of money, to help you deal with the problems, you need to build seawalls- but no money has come?

TONG: I think that the urgency of the whole process is being misunderstood. We are still negotiating and I think that was the point that I have been making all the time. It’s not a negotiation for us; it’s an urgent bid for survival. And, it’s happening. We don’t want to allow it to happen in larger scale, before it is too late for us, and too costly, if ever any work is going to be done to restore the integrity of the islands.

CURWOOD: Ok, well, thank you, sir. Anote Tong, President of Kiribati.

TONG: You’re very welcome indeed.



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