Rupee and her brother Tang are part of the last generation to live in the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati one of the first countries that may vanish into the ocean under the rising seas, caused in large part by man-made climate change. Located south of Hawaii, the island nation has a little more than 100,000 people living on less than 320 square miles of land smaller than the city of Dallas. World leaders are gathering this week for U.N. climate talks in Lima, Peru to lay the groundwork for a climate treaty to be implemented by 2020.
At the talks, small island states, including Kiribati, are advocating that the world go completely fossil fuel free by 2050. This goal is viewed as unrealistic based on emission trends in countries such as the U.S., China, India and Brazil.
Though the process will be gradual, Kiribati can expect to become uninhabitable due to coastal erosion and fresh water contamination as early as 2050. More than 60% of Kiribati’s population is under the age of 30 and young people like Rupee, who make up the vast majority of Kiribati’s population, may be the last generation to live on these islands.
At low tide, one can glimpse how the once-fertile soil has been transformed into a thick clay of mud, sewage and stagnant water. Stumps of dead coconut trees and car parts slowly rusting in the harsh Kiribati sun lend the seashore a post-apocalyptic feel.
Frontline communities like Eita exist across all of Kiribati’s 33 islands and atolls (coral islands). Most communities suffer from coastal erosion, but many also face the threat of saltwater contamination of their fresh water supply.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared Kiribati to be among the six Pacific Island nations most vulnerable to global warming. The study reported that these countries face “a serious threat of permanent inundation from rising sea-levels.” Read more…