Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Global First

Anote Tong, President of the Republic of Kiribati, addresses
the general debate of the sixty-seventh session of the
 United Nations General Assembly.
The first country to be erased by changing climate - The Gilbert Islands, known now as the Pacific island nation of Kiribati.  They have about thirty years remaining.

With a population of just over 100,000 they expend their limited resources protecting their homes and increasingly fragile land against the rising ocean.  Seawalls and levees have proved inadequate. Planning has begun for when the population must be evacuated.

Speaking at the U.N., Kiribati's President Anote Tong details the impact of climate change and sea level rise on the survival of his country.  He characterizes the unsustainable use of the planet’s resources as the greatest moral challenge of our time. “Economic growth at all costs must not be our mantra.”

The island region has been inhabited for perhaps a few thousand years by the Micronesian peoples and others. Christmas Island to Tarawa and beyond, more than a million square miles ... Tarawa Atoll and others of the group were occupied by Japan during World War II. Tarawa was the site of one of the bloodiest battles in US Marine Corps history. Marines landed in November 1943; the Battle of Tarawa was fought at Kiribati's former capital Betio on Tarawa Atoll.

The name Kiribati is the local pronunciation of Gilberts, from the Gilbert Islands named after the British explorer who sailed through in 1788. The capital, South Tarawa, consists of a number of islets connected through a series of causeways, located in the Tarawa archipelago. Kiribati became independent in 1979. It is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the IMF and the World Bank, and became a full member of the United Nations in 1999.

While Kiribati is today taking measures to ensure it remains inhabitable for as long as possible, the island nation is also preparing for the day when the island can  no longer sustain its population. Kiribati is looking to improve its people’s job skills, so they might compete on the global market and migrate with dignity.

There is no justice in some people benefiting from the unsustainable exploitation of resources, while others pay the ultimate price. 

If the international community is to provide a secure, peaceful and prosperous future for its children, then it must go beyond “business as usual” and deliver now.

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