President says Kiribati must face climate change reality | Pacific Beat

President says Kiribati must face climate change reality

President says Kiribati must face climate change reality

Updated 21 April 2013, 16:51 AEST

President Anote Tong of Kiribati says it's virtually inevitable his low-lying island nation will rendered uninhabitable by climate change-induced sea level rise.

But he says the first option is always to see if there are ways to maintain the integrity of the islands.

His comments came ahead of the launch of the country's first national high-level public hearing on the issue.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts

Speaker: Anote Tong, President of Kiribati

TONG: Well, it's an opportunity to get the people engaged in a debate which is very much related to their future survival. I think it's important for them to understand what's involved the options, the strategy, the government is trying to pursue, what is happening at the international arena, so they know exactly what is going on.
COUTTS: Now, what's the format for it, will there be a panel of guests and how will there be any interaction from the public?
TONG: Well, the idea is to get the public involved. Over the past years, what we have been doing is reacting to the science coming from the international groups and our own involvement, the involvement of our own people has been quite minimal. And so what will happen is we will have panellists from different sectors of the community, leaders, from the community leaders both traditional, church leaders, because in Kiribati the churches are very influential and so they will involved as well as the politicians. I think it's important that the legislature is involved so that what we have is a whole of nation approach addressing an issue that will impact on the whole nation.
COUTTS: Will you be able to take questions though from the public?
TONG: Oh, that's the idea. The idea is to get the public involvement. In the past, it's been pretty much closed. We had an international conference sometime back, we had the leaders from the different communities, from the outer islands and all over the country, but there's never been an opportunity for the people to ask questions, to get a better understanding of what is going on, what is involved, what is their role, what government is trying to do, what the international community is trying to do or not doing and so this will be an opportunity to get people actively engaged,
COUTTS: Now, the panellists, they've each been assigned I guess an area of expertise that they should speak on. So what are some of the themes that the speakers will speak to doing the public hearing?
TONG: Well, we have people from different political parties. I think it's important that we iron out any differences that we have politically, that we discuss this. We will also have people from the women's sector, we will have people from the business sector, we will have people from the youth, representing the youth, the disabled community and quite importantly, we will have representation from the people who have already been involved with the impact of climate change to the community that had to relocate, because their village has been washed out and so it's going to be a very comprehensive approach to understanding and trying to deal with the issue.
COUTTS: And will you be also looking for ideas as to how you can manage the impact of climate change going forward in Kiribati?
TONG: Oh, I think it's important that what we as leaders have been saying is actually shared by the people and I think, well as you know, I've been very involved in advocating on this issue, but I think it's important to also get a good understanding of how our people are feeling, what is their reaction, are we actually representing their views or are we saying something quite different from their thinking.
COUTTS: We know that and we've covered on the program and heard many times that Kiribati has bought some land in Fiji. Maybe down the track, is where people will relocate. And so have you thrown in the towel, are you surrendering now and is it a lost cause in Kiribati that you can't redeem a suitable lifestyle and you will have to move eventually?
TONG: I think we have to acknowledge the realities and the reality is that with the climate change impact, the projection is that the sea level rise will render our islands submerged and virtually uninhabitable and we have to face that reality and it's not a question of surrendering. I think it's a question of being practical in the face of the choices, the limited choices that we have. Oh, I think, are we surrendering? I think that's a bit of a defeatist approach, we're not being defeatist. We're trying to be the best we can in the circumstances.
But what must be understood is yes, if we have to migrate, we have to be ready.  But always our first option is to see if we can maintain the integrity of the islands. It's important, absolutely important that we are committed to this, because today there will also be the launch of the climate change adaptation framework, and within that framework is the commitment that we will endeavour as far as possible to ensure that the island of Kiribati does not disappear entirely. But our ability to do that will be limited by the resources we have. So this is where we're challenging the international community to come forward and migration is part of the whole strategy, not entirely migration, but it's going to be a multi-pronged approach, including migration.
COUTTS: Is there a bit of resentment among the public in Kiribati that the international countries, that are causing much of the emissions that impact on countries like Kiribati aren't doing enough?
TONG: Well absolutely. You must understand this is not something of our making and we have to respond and react to it and certainly there is this question that why, why is this happening, why is it allowed to happen? But our people are pretty resilient and conservative, but we have to be able to make them understand that it's a question of mapping the way forward, rather than turning back and trying to assign blame. There is no question as to who to blame and our people understand that, but there is very little they can do about it at this point in time, but think ahead and see what they can do in response to it.
COUTTS: And as part of this public hearing is to inform and educate the wider general public. Will they have to do their part too? Are there things that they need to change to do their part, to contribute to the wellbeing of the country?
TONG: Yes, I think it's important that we make our people that each individual has a part to play in the whole process and the what we are telling our people is why don't you do whatever you can, plant mangroves, try to ensure that we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions as far as possible and it's a question of engaging in the solution and as we know, climate change is not something that any one country can address, but it's got to be done on a collective basis and we want to communicate and our people must understand that this must be a collective effort.



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