Former Head Of Island Nation Looks For 'Crazy Ways' To Survive Climate Change

Anote Tong, former President of the island nation of Kiribati, said his country is barely two metres above the sea level, and any rise in sea level is disastrous


Anote Tong was President of the island nation of Kiribati for 10 years (Photo courtesy: Sam Beebe)

Bengaluru:  Imagine your home was on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. And that the highest point was about two metres above sea level. Chances are, you would feel the urgency of the impact of climate change much more than you do now.

Anote Tong was President of the island nation of Kiribati for 10 years and has campaigned tirelessly for steps to counter climate change. His country of one lakh people is a collection of small islands in the Pacific Ocean. He was in Bengaluru recently to receive an environment award as part of the Samsara Environment Festival and he spoke to NDTV in the city.

"Climate change is a story that needs to be told no matter whether you think you are so vulnerable or not. For countries like mine which are barely two metres above the sea level, any rise in sea level is really disastrous," Mr Tong said.

"But I estimate more danger would come from the changes in the weather pattern. We don't usually get cyclones because we are on the equator -- but in 2015 we got hit by a cyclone for the first time and that is scary. So our people are beginning to be concerned," he said.

Mr Tong has even considered floating islands as a possible answer.

"I fail to understand when people fail to understand. I got very depressed (when world leaders did not initially listen) I had to find new energy and the energy was understanding that there is no point trying to tell my people what it is in store for them in the future because there is nothing I can do about it," said the former president.

"And for me to say and admit that there is nothing I can do about it, that it's beyond my control was not good enough."

He said he had to find solutions -- even the craziest-sounding solutions like trying to find whether they can live on floating islands. "I have actually tried to partner with the United Arab Emirates who have built islands. I believe they are interested; they have got the technology, they have got the experience but I think what always encourages me is the fact that people like Richard Branson and Elon Musk -- they have billions and are talking about hotels in space. So we should be able to do something to assure the survival of people like mine," Mr Tong said.

Adding to that concern is what seems to be the lack of seriousness about climate change in world leaders, including US President Donald Trump.

"It is disappointing but at the same time I want to make a point that in a conference I attended at the United Nations, leaders from different states in America made a very categorical statement that no matter where the administration is going they will stick to what they committed in Paris," Mr Tong said.

"I think there is more than hope. I think what Donald Trump may be saying does not reflect what the rest of the United States may be thinking."

The former president of the Pacific nation is hopeful about the response of India to climate change issues. "What was inspiring is the statement by the Prime Minister that India had to take its share of responsibilities doing what needs to be done. So I've seen that change over the years. It is an India that is forward-looking, an India that is contributing to addressing the issue," he said.

"When the United States withdrew, I wondered whether China or India who have been dragging their feet on this issue would find a good excuse to withdraw. So to see India and China coming with full commitment was extremely inspiring and I think for me it gave me a lot of hope that we do have a future," Mr Tong said.

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