The first mass exodus related to climate change is happening in Kiribati, a group of islands located in the central tropical Pacific Ocean. The archipelago consists of 32 islands and it plans to move the entire population to Fiji in order to avoid rising sea levels.
According to their President, Anote Tong:
“This is the last resort, there is no way out of this one. Our people will have to move as the tides have reached our homes and villages. We don’t want 100,000 people from Kiribati coming to Fiji in one go. They need to find employment, not as refugees but as immigrant people with skills to offer, people who have a place in the community, people who will not be seen as second-class citizens. What we need is the international community to come up with an urgent funding package to deal with that ambition, and the need of countries like Kiribati.”
Currently Kiribati is buying 5,000 acres of land on the second-largest island in Fiji, Vanau Levu. The situation is dire because in 1999, three of the uninhabited atolls in the nation went underwater. If sea levels continue to rise at projected levels, it is estimated that by 2100, the entire nation might be submerged.
Incidents such as these call to attention the very real threat of climate change and rising sea levels. Earlier this year, former Maldivian president, Mohammed Nasheed, said he was considering the very real possibility of moving his entire nation to Australia.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that: “The country has established a sovereign wealth fund, drawn from its tourist revenue, to be used to buy land overseas and finance the relocation of the country’s population of 350,000.”
There are several examples of climate refugees. For example, the Caterat Islanders of Papua New Guinea are the world’s first entire community to be displaced by climate change. The island is predicted to be completely underwater by 2015. The entire community is comprised of 2000 people, but their final journey represents a loss of their home and way of life.
Bill Clinton stressed the need for better immigration laws last year to deal with climate refugees, because the world is going to see higher numbers of them in the coming days. The situation comes with unique human rights, economic and social challenges that will have to be dealt with.
Apart from many island nations, areas of ecological importance like the Sundarbans are also threatened. Not only is this sensitive area home to many people, it also supports the largest mangrove forest in the world and is one of the important habitats of the Bengal Tiger. Most governments do not have plans for climate refugees who have been displaced by changing sea levels, but it is about time they started.