June 7th, 2014
10:09 AM ET

Will this nation disappear off the map?

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.​

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Topics: Climate • Environment • GPS Show

soundoff (116 Responses)
  1. jdk47

    Burn some witches. Worked so well for the "Global Cooling" scaremongers back then.

    June 9, 2014 at 8:04 pm |
    • Ro

      Our president is bonkers!!!! Obama is making HORRIBLE CHOICES THROUGHOUT this country and I believe that IMPEACHING HIM IS BEST FOR THE USA! We are not England, France, Greece or Germany! We the people are The United States of America. We are not cowards or dirt! We work hard pay our bills and abide by the law. Mr. Obama is no different. He is off on a head trip! I have been taught right is right & wrong is wrong, but no one ever told OBAMA!!
      November is coming quickly. Good Luck!!
      PS also stop the illegals from get their hands on our money, I have a choice of charities who I WANT TO GIVE TO NOT OBAMA OR THE GOV.!!! No One World Gov.!!!
      Thank you for listen!

      June 10, 2014 at 12:55 am |
      • Justin

        u r talking as if only the ppl of usa work. rest of the world just sit on their *** all day long.

        June 10, 2014 at 8:41 am |
      • truth

        You people are so stupid you actually don't know "impeaching" doesn't remove a president from office. But go on keep yelling the faux news tagline.

        June 10, 2014 at 8:45 am |
      • Julio

        I just dont understand why you americans are being so selfish, calling for closing the borders and calling others illegals, yet by everyones understanding, all you and you ancestors just imigrated to America, how come no one stopped you from going there?
        I bet 5 generations ago, your ancestors where not in America, they were in europe or some other place.

        June 10, 2014 at 3:42 pm |
      • abc123

        You forgot your meds and your tinfoil hat again.

        June 10, 2014 at 11:03 pm |
  2. Big_d

    They should sue big oil.

    June 9, 2014 at 8:26 pm |
  3. stanlet brachowskiName*

    Check Russia plants to have orange gardens in Siberia and you will find why ice in North Pole is melting
    Those plans were back 1952

    June 9, 2014 at 8:32 pm |
  4. HenryMiller

    So we're supposed to waste trillions of bucks because these people live on a geologically unstable island?

    June 9, 2014 at 8:38 pm |
    • CT

      The United States is going to lose a lot more land than Kiribati. Places like Louisiana and Florida will lose millions of acres of low-lying coastal ground.

      June 10, 2014 at 11:39 am |
  5. Stephen Pruett

    Sea level has been rising since the end of the last ice age. It is not accelerating. Peer-reviewed studies show that even with increasing sea levels, most islands and atolls have maintained or increased their size, because they are dynamic structures to which degraded coral is constantly being added (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/health-science/pacific-islands-have-not-shrunk-new-scientist-study/story-e6frg8y6-1225875124464). Again, there is no evidence that the increase of sea level is or will accelerate. This ASSUMPTION is based on unproven climate models that are consistently diverging from real climate measurements. So, the worry expressed here is not based on science but on something else.

    June 9, 2014 at 8:57 pm |
  6. Chuck

    If all the ice on the plant all melted, the sea would only rise a few inches

    June 9, 2014 at 9:16 pm |
    • HarpAttack

      You're nucking futz too. Check your mirror and register that reality.

      June 10, 2014 at 12:11 am |
    • mike

      hmmm. A quick Google search says 61 meters and that was from national geographic. I think I will believe them

      June 13, 2014 at 11:10 am |
    • mike

      by the way, how much ice does a plant hold anyways?

      June 13, 2014 at 11:11 am |
  7. Rodger Olsen

    Since 1940, sea levels have risen less than four inches world wide. In thirty years, that adds another 2 – 3 inches. Doubt that the additional three inches will cover many islands.

    June 9, 2014 at 9:41 pm |
    • Taily

      Yes, the sea level may not necessarily rise enough to inundate the islands, but they will destroy the islands' freshwater supplies; making them uninhabitable.

      June 9, 2014 at 10:46 pm |
  8. maggie

    our physical world is changing. we've got to adapt, but we also have to repair the damage we have done to mother earth. population pressure, scarce resources, and extremism have brought war and famine. The things that are going on right now make the medieval world seem pleasant, it would be nice to look back in a thousand years having repaired as much as we can (stop polluting corporations) and go back to a world that made do with appropriate and sustainable existence, but I don't think we humans have what it takes until we as a global community agree on priorities and teach ourselves to cooperatively engage for the good of everyone. Cheers, Peace, Maggie

    June 9, 2014 at 10:01 pm |
  9. Jay Garlitz

    I was recently in Kiribati, both on near sea level Tarawa and on the one raised Coral island Banaba (260 ft. elevation). There are many areas in Florida that remind me of Tarawa, so what impacts Tarawa and Kiribati today, likely will impact South Florida within our children's lifetime.

    June 10, 2014 at 12:20 am |
  10. Bruce

    Climate change is happening and it is caused by humans. This is fact. The debate is over. The only people debating this are paid to or are really, really ignorant. Fox News and ultra conservative sites are bad for your brain. Get a dose of reality by peaking your head outside of the little tunnel you live in.

    Because we now know climate change is a fact, we need to start preparing for what is to come. Man up folks and face the music.

    June 10, 2014 at 5:41 am |
    • Bill

      A fact that climate change occurring is caused by humans? You can't be that ignorant. It's obviously a natural process that started at the end of the last ice age. Perhaps it has been accelerated by humans, but maybe that is why the earth created us to begin with!

      June 10, 2014 at 5:55 am |
      • Dave

        Bruce declared the debate over. Now if we can't respect some random guy on the internet declaring an end to the discussion what will become of us? It will lead to anarchy. Fire and brimstone coming down from the sky! Rivers and seas boiling! Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes! The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats, living together! Mass hysteria!

        June 10, 2014 at 6:23 am |
      • Too slow

        Dave beat me to the Ghostbusters line. I always use that when these imaginative liberals talk about this nonsense. Lol

        June 10, 2014 at 8:00 am |
  11. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    There is entirely too much discussion of science in this thread.
    Stop bringing up science, or we shall lose the communal Joy of Reducing Our Carbon Footprints for Our Children, Our Grandchildren, Other Living Things, and the Earth.

    June 10, 2014 at 6:00 am |
  12. JamesS

    What's happening to this island is subsidence from extracting the fresh water from below. It's a very common problem in these low-lying islands. If you pump out the fresh water faster than it can naturally recharge, the salt water will intrude. The land will also subside, which causes the alarmists to claim sea level rise is causing the problem. However, sea level rise is, on the average, about 1.5 – 3.0 mm/year, which means over a hundred years the sea level might rise 150 – 300 mm. That's 6 – 12 inches per century, and it's the same rate as has been measured over the last 150 years or so. It's got nothing to do with CO2 in the atmosphere.

    June 10, 2014 at 6:55 am |
  13. George

    Islands sinking and washing away have nothing to do with the already debunked exaggeration called man made global warming.

    June 10, 2014 at 7:39 am |
    • mike

      please give me an example of ONE accredited scientist that has debunked climate change and global warming. You realize both are real right. The big question that has been debated is, firstly is it happening, and secondly are we contributing to it. I think I will believe the overwhelming majority of scientists on this one.

      June 13, 2014 at 11:17 am |
  14. Yuck

    @ro,stop blaming Obama for everything,correction he had been a good president,just imagine if we would've have Sarah palin and mc Cain ???how would they deal with Ukraine and Russia situation?also if you were president how would you deal with it???if you don't have any idea I would suggest too keep your mouth shut!!!!!!also please stick with the topic...

    June 10, 2014 at 11:33 am |
  15. Yuck

    Bruce nicely said.

    June 10, 2014 at 11:35 am |
  16. Ragman

    At some point in time I'm sure this "island" was completely covered by water and as the climate on this floating rock in space has changed, as it does normally over the years, has protruded from the depths. Do you actually think anything we do besides setting off a nuclear bomb can really affect this planet?lmfao... If we even tried to do something I'm sure Mother Earth would shake us off like a dog does with it's fleas. Get a grip and stop buying into the rhetoric. All this global warming and climate change rhetoric has done has caused the price of everything to skyrocket at the expense of us. Gore is buying up "beachfront" property that was suppose to be under water by now. What's that tell ya?lol

    June 10, 2014 at 2:47 pm |
  17. DRJJJ

    We just went through one of the coldest winters on record. Another little ice age seems more reasonable. Drop the speed limit and incentivize on line meetings vs in person if you want to clean things up overnight and for free-fair and proven too.

    June 12, 2014 at 2:59 pm |
  18. Walter Sieruk

    America might just dissappear ,at least as a world power, one reason for this is because Obama is in the White House.

    June 14, 2014 at 1:24 pm |
  19. scott

    Would someone like to explain why the great lakes are losing water then?

    June 16, 2014 at 10:00 am |
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