Kiribati, a Pacific island nation with over 100,000 residents, may be completely underwater within the next 30 years according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In a recent interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Kiribati President Anote Tong discussed the grim implications of climate change for his country. Severe flooding has already destroyed much of the coastline and property as seawater increasingly compromises fresh water ponds and food crops.
As a country comprised of 33 low-lying atolls and islands, Kiribati is particularly susceptible to climate change. These atolls are ring-shaped coral islands that encircle a lagoon and rarely rise more than two meters above sea level. As President Tong points out, when the sea level rises residents have no high ground to retreat to, making them vulnerable to everyday tidal fluctuations as well as rarer extreme weather events.
Unfortunately Kiribati’s troubles are not unique, as rising sea levels threaten coastal nations around the globe. In March, the neighboring Marshall Islands was forced to declare a state of emergency following severe flooding. The Maldives face similar challenges with 80% of its 1,200 islands lying no more than one meter above sea level. Ex-President Mohammad Nasheed pointed out that both New York City and Miami sit at the same elevation (merely six feet above sea level) as the Maldives capital city Male, which has already constructed a 10 foot high flood wall around the city.
Rising sea levels resulting from man-made changes in climate are not just a problem for small island nations. Across the globe, 100 cities each with a population of a million or more sit on the coast. Storm surges and flooding will cost billions of dollars in damages and require the mass deployment of militaries to stabilize the area and provide humanitarian aid. Given the size of the area under threat, the world’s militaries will likely be stretched thin, presenting weaknesses at home and abroad.
Watch the interview with Kiribati President Anote Tong: