Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
President Obama's cap on carbon emissions sparked much debate this week. But for another country, the climate change debate is more than words and policies – it is a matter, literally, of survival. Kiribati, an island nation in the Pacific Ocean that 100,000 people call home, could be uninhabitable just 30 years from now thanks to rising sea levels. Fareed Zakaria speaks with Kiribati's president, Anote Tong, about what his nation is facing – and what their plans for the future are.
Tell me about your country. Why is it particularly susceptible to climate change?
Well, I think what's important here to understand is the geography of atoll islands. Atolls are very small islands, barely two meters above sea level.
And so, unlike most countries, if the sea level rises, we don't have anywhere to move back toward, we don't have any high ground to move toward. And so we're so vulnerable.
Because you have 33 islands. And nowhere are you more than seven feet above sea level, correct?
We have one single island, but it's a small island. But the rest are atoll islands.
So 32 of the 33 would be underwater, in other words?
They would all be underwater given the projections being put forward by the IPCC.
And what does it look like right now? What are you beginning to already see?
We have the severe inundation of the coastline in all of the different islands. Just earlier this year, the first three months, we had very high tides, unprecedented, which destroyed a lot of the coastline, destroyed a lot of property. And our neighboring island country, the Marshall Islands, they declared a state of emergency. We suffer the same problems. We've had to sustain a lot of damage. We have to do a lot of repair work.
And what does daily life look like, because you need drinking water…what are the effects already in terms of those kinds of things?
I think the disturbing thing that we see more frequently is it's happening to more communities with the intrusion of the seawater into the fresh water lanes, into the fresh water ponds, destroying food crops. And so that is happening.
How long do you think you have?
Perhaps by 20 years time, we'll see some really drastic, drastic impacts.