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 (113 Responses)
  1. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    Have the residents of Kiribati considered moving?

    June 7, 2014 at 4:42 pm | Reply
    • geggyg

      Where do you suggest they move too.
      The Australian Govt wont accept them , Aust only accepts a small to come here on short term work visa's and some on family reunions ( we used to have a more relaxed policy of immigration from the Pacific Island ) . Most of the other Pacific have economic , political, geographic , climatic and food and fresh water problems .

      June 9, 2014 at 11:40 am | Reply
      • Defting

        To the United States of course!

        June 9, 2014 at 5:39 pm |
    • geggyg

      Where do you suggest they move too.
      The Australian Govt wont accept them , Aust only accepts a small to come here on short term work visa's and some on family reunions ( we used to have a more relaxed policy of immigration from the Pacific Island ) . Most of the other Pacific have economic , political, geographic , climatic and food and fresh water problems .
      Kiribati isn't a rich country so paying to settle in another country would be a problem .

      June 9, 2014 at 11:43 am | Reply
      • Nathan Fleischman

        You said that twice!

        June 9, 2014 at 5:49 pm |
  2. Charles Norcutt

    I would strongly suggest that Fareed read this before accepting more claims that Kiribati is being inundated by rising seas due to climate change.

    June 8, 2014 at 10:54 am | Reply
  3. Charles Norcutt

    Sorry, CNN seems to have disappeared my link. See wattsupwiththat dot com / 2012/03/09 / kiribati-on-the-move-not-sinking/

    June 8, 2014 at 10:57 am | Reply
    • just me

      and we are supposed to believe something from a site called "wattsupwiththat" ? Maybe a third grader would.....

      June 9, 2014 at 11:25 am | Reply
      • Defting

        Nah, they have an app for that....

        June 9, 2014 at 5:40 pm |
    • pmmarion

      Of course Kiibati is not sinking! The ocean is rising.

      June 9, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Reply
    • gkh1977

      Anthony Watts, the guy who runs the website you linked is a freaking TV meteorologist, not a climate scientist. He wasn't even a very good one since the most high profile station he worked for was a local Fox News affiliate in Chico California, a small-ish city about 200 miles north of the Bay Area and not exactly a hub of intellectual activities. In any case, many of these TV personalities don't even have a degree in meteorology (journalism is more common up until recently), much less a masters of PHD like the actual climate scientists and researchers. Heck, Watts didn't even finish his degree at Purdue University.

      With all of that said, do you actually expect us to take the word of that clown given his not-so-impressive background? Tell me you're joking. Even Lance Armstrong has more credibility and expertise in his chosen field. That fact that you have so easily fallen for his spiel hook line and sinker really makes me wonder just what type of expertise and education level you have.

      June 9, 2014 at 5:52 pm | Reply
  4. Florence nee Fedup

    Do we have the right, with our unjustifiable greed, to put these island and other people at risk?

    What is more stupid., moving to a clean energy future, moving to renewals will lead to a better economy and nicer environment.

    June 9, 2014 at 4:16 am | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      @ Florence nee Fedup,
      Thank you for sharing your insight, and for the estimable style of your writing.
      I am unconvinced that either "a better economy" or "a nicer environment" would result from our heeding your advice, but I am fascinated by your concept of "moving to renewals."

      June 9, 2014 at 7:29 am | Reply
    • danfrommv

      I can understand that the environment would be considered "nicer" because of clean, renewable energy. A "better" economy is pretty subjective, though, as the renewable energy sources are more expensive today, which is why they aren't in wide use today. Any time the cost of energy increases, it decreases economic output, since so many industries rely on energy. Now, if the cost of renewables declines to the point where they are cheaper, then yes you would most likely have a better economy

      June 9, 2014 at 11:51 am | Reply
      • gkh1977

        Expensive is... relative. We spent somewhere between 700 billion to 1 trillion USD on defense and security but only 50 billion on renewable energy development in 2013. In other words, we spent only 0.33% of our nominal GDP on renewable energy and 4.5-5.5% on defense/security last year. Imagine what an extra percentage point or 150 billion dollars could do for the renewable energy industry. Would it be good for the economy? Hypothetically speaking, no one can be certain but the odds are pretty good since only a small number of people and companies actually benefit from defense related or nation building contracts. For the price of one translator or private security officer in Iraq or Afghanistan (100-200k annual salary), you can hire 2-3 engineers or skilled construction workers. Not a particular difficult decision in my opinion.

        Anyway, whether is solar, wind, hydro or geothermal, the technology and expertise is readily available as it is. Heck, in some cases it has been available for the last 20-30 years. Monetary investment on the other hand is the biggest question remaining.

        June 9, 2014 at 6:27 pm |
    • williebkind

      Just another CNN article to feed the base with the same incantation about global warming. This time they are appealing to the sentiment side of people. What a disgrace! Another lie? I will let you be the judge. It seems without extravigate extremism the left cannot change America from an oil based economy to a promise economy. You know the one that promises to make the world an utopia at your expense not theirs.

      June 9, 2014 at 3:50 pm | Reply
      • roshan

        I understand that you don't understand that there is a science behind the claim of man made global warming. Anyone with a little knowledge of science can understand the relation between CO2 IR radiation absorption and its effect on rising temperature. One doesn't need a PhD to understand that. Most of you say "I think its a hoax, I think its a conspiracy, I don't think its happening,....". You have to understand that what you think doesn't matter here. You people obviously don't know the difference between facts and opinions. Unfortunately world is full of people like you.

        June 9, 2014 at 8:10 pm |
    • Just me

      You and All Gore are making a huge assumption that we can stop the climate change by moving to clean fuel. That is a bit arrogant since the climate has been changing for ever and will continue long after the human race is gone. Are you getting rich from this like Al?

      June 9, 2014 at 4:55 pm | Reply
      • Frozentundra

        Clean energy should be supported regardless of climate change to reduce pollution.

        June 9, 2014 at 6:15 pm |
      • gkh1977

        I don't think any sane person will say that we can stop climate change entirely. But, we can slow down the pace and reduce our contribution to it.

        The environment of earth evolved over billions of years to become what it was 10000 years ago, at the dawn of human civilization. In the short span, the human race went from several million to 7 billion people. That same billions of people have been cutting down millions acres of trees, dumping billions of gallons in polluted liquid into the ocean and pumping billions of pounds in pollutants into the atmosphere every single year for the past century. Are you trying to tell us that all of those activities wouldn't have much of a tangible impact on the global environment? Oh I'm sure mother nature has accounted for factories and automobiles during the evolutionary process.

        To say that the climate will continue changing even if we don't bother with changing anything is pure obtuseness that flies in the fact of logic. Whether the climate continue changing is irrelevant. What's relevant is that human ARE damaging the environment and there is a pressing need to lower our impact.

        June 9, 2014 at 6:54 pm |
      • roshan

        Obviously you got it wrong. Yes climate change is a natural cycle and but what happened was we disturbed that natural cycle. Radioactive analysis have proved that CO2 level have risen to unprecedented level in the last century and values are far away from predicted values of the natural climate variation cycle. Data have been analysed by thousands of scientists throughout the world and they are pretty consistent. There is absolutely no evidence to blame sun or inner earth for this abrupt change. I don't think you understand these facts.

        June 9, 2014 at 8:20 pm |
  5. YYJ

    I don't understand why action isn't being taken regarding the rising sea level. There has to be some way of transferring the water to other areas of the planet. Maybe when New York and California start to flood a little, then something will be done.

    June 9, 2014 at 9:39 am | Reply
    • jimmy619

      wow...really?? perhaps we can tip the earth so the water will flow away from kiribati?? you know, we survived a 500-foot rise in sea level when the ice age ended. i think we can survive a few more inches.

      June 9, 2014 at 10:06 am | Reply
      • roshan

        How many survived exactly in the last ice age? how many do you think will survive in a world with 7 billion population? don't talk nonsence.

        June 9, 2014 at 8:23 pm |
    • Zakarus Demarco

      holy crap, you're serious aren't you?

      June 9, 2014 at 10:52 am | Reply
    • EG_NYC

      They already have a technology that pumps river water at the point where it reaches the ocean, back up the river and into the lakes where the water originated. Then, they can install water dehydration systems at each lake to evaporate the water so that the lakes never over flow. The technology is there.

      June 9, 2014 at 11:22 am | Reply
      • danfrommv

        Doesn't that require a large amount of energy? If that energy is not 100% "clean", then you are creating more CO2 "pollution"

        June 9, 2014 at 11:53 am |
      • roshan

        where does that energy come from?

        June 9, 2014 at 8:24 pm |
  6. rom2894

    Actually the sea level is returning to its levels prior to the last ice age.

    June 9, 2014 at 10:16 am | Reply
  7. Larry Craig

    Fareed should worry about his native country India. It is the most polluted, the most populated, and the filthiest nation in earth.

    June 9, 2014 at 10:34 am | Reply
    • danfrommv

      2nd most populated, China is #1

      June 9, 2014 at 11:54 am | Reply
    • sly

      Yeah! People should only worry about their own nation.

      Thank God America only cares about it's own country, and has never ever in history crossed foreign borders of another nation.

      Yup ... some real genius's on this here blog. But of course, it's all a huge conspiracy anyway – 99% of all scientists are lying. Only 1% is telling the truth. I know it, because I am the 1%. It's all lies. Disregard it.

      June 9, 2014 at 1:57 pm | Reply
      • williebkind

        That 99% is a consensus of liberals. What did you expect them to say with their grants on the line.

        June 9, 2014 at 3:53 pm |
    • gkh1977

      Both China and India are far, far behind the U.S. in terms of CO2 emission per capita.

      What's the matter, are you afraid of not being able to drive your RV, boat or the 4 cars on your varipous road trip every year?

      June 9, 2014 at 7:03 pm | Reply
    • roshan

      Seriously? US is/has been the number one polluter for last 100 years. Check facts.

      June 9, 2014 at 8:26 pm | Reply
  8. Reid K.

    These climate change deniers are ridiculous.

    Now.. let's ignore all the science, and the fact that scientists almost universally believe that climate change is caused by humans, for a second: When the survival of the entire human race is at stake, don't you think you should hedge your bets just a bit? Shouldn't at least some action be taken against the mere *possibility* of all humans being dead in the next few hundred years?

    But of course, money, production and the needless use of resources are all more important, right?

    June 9, 2014 at 10:38 am | Reply
    • Zakarus Demarco

      I won't be around in "the next few hundred years", so no, I don't give a damn....btw, the climate is continuously changing on Earth; do you think before humans everything was static and now, all-of-a-sudden, they're changing? I'm not a climate change denier: I'm a "of course the climate is changing, it always is" type.

      June 9, 2014 at 10:57 am | Reply
      • the obvious

        Maybe you could be the type who understands that obviously the climate is always changing, but the man is adding to that. Is that so difficult to understand? The scientists can tell what CO2 that man has added since much of it has characteristics that make it so they can tell volcanically generated CO2 from human generated CO2, for instance.

        June 9, 2014 at 2:23 pm |
    • danfrommv

      Reid, yes "some" action should be taken. But the climate change scientists have already declared that the Antarctic ice shelf is irreversibly melting, and will cause the seas to rise 14 feet over the next 200 to 1000 years. So, if you have faith in the science, then you have faith in that projection, and some time in the next 200 to 1000 years, a LOT of people, including our Kiribati friends, and the fine people of coastal cities in the US, will have to move.

      June 9, 2014 at 11:59 am | Reply
    • Frozentundra

      Humanity will survive.

      June 9, 2014 at 6:58 pm | Reply
  9. potzrebie

    Not that great a loss. Sorry, but what is is what is.

    June 9, 2014 at 10:51 am | Reply
    • M

      To you, probably not, since it's unlikely to directly affect you, but, to the people who live there and are personally affected, it's a very great loss.

      June 9, 2014 at 4:24 pm | Reply
  10. krehator

    You adapt or you move. Mankind has been doing it for thousands of years. When did we become so darn wimpy?

    June 9, 2014 at 10:55 am | Reply
    • geggyg

      Where would they move too. Would you accept 100,000 turning up in your country . .
      During the previous Ice Ages , and there retreats, there were only some numbers of people and no borders or sovereign states.
      There wouldn't be any uninhabited land to house and feed that many people which isn't already claimed by another country

      June 9, 2014 at 11:57 am | Reply
      • danfrommv

        Obama accepts all new comers, and provides them with shelter, and food, and health care.

        June 9, 2014 at 12:00 pm |
      • williebkind

        Yea and climate change sunk Atlantis! Those people had too many cows.

        June 9, 2014 at 3:55 pm |
  11. Jaw Shoe Ahh!

    7 feet? I just did a quick Google search for ICPP sea level rise projections. Their report states that there is "Medium confidence that GMSL (Global mean sea level) rise by 2300 will be less than 1 meter (3 feet)"

    That's one foot per 100 years. In the last century, sea level has risen by one foot as well. If you ask anyone who lived a majority of the 20th century what their biggest memories are... I can guarantee that the sea level rising by a foot in their lifetime would not be one.

    I agree that we should move to cleaner energy technologies as soon as possible. but it is flat out scare tactic propaganda to say that in just 30 years this entire country will disappear.

    June 9, 2014 at 11:14 am | Reply
    • JT

      Let me ask you a question Jaw. If you read something in that report that did not make sense, would you blindly accept it?

      Let's focus on the proposition that the rise in sea level is accelerating. That means that the rate of change isn't the same now as it will be in 100 years, and that it isn't he same now as it was 100 years ago.

      So with that in mind, simple math would tell you that it's going to rise more than 3 feet in 300 years, especially with the knowledge that the previous rate was 1 foot per 100 years.

      In order for that report to be correct, it would mean that nothing's changed at all since 1900. If you honestly believe that then you're in a much greater state of denial (or blind faith, depending on how you look at it).

      The man who said 30 years is the President of the country, not a scientist with direct knowledge of climate predictions. In 30 years I would imagine all of the islands will still be around, but many of them may no longer be habitable if there's no fresh water left or if waves continously erode what little land is left.

      June 9, 2014 at 11:40 am | Reply
      • Jaw Shoe Ahh!

        So then you agree that stating that these islands will be underwater in 30 years is a scare tactic? Because it's not a scientific claim, and even the scientific body that this article mentions (but fails to cite) doesn't come near those projections, whatsoever.

        And I implore you to look into the impact that cap and trade tactics that Obama wants to implement will actually do. It's virtually non-existent. It's just a way to set up another fiat market for equity firms to make money.

        June 9, 2014 at 2:37 pm |
    • geggyg

      Even if it only a one foot rise ( though there are some newer estimates taking into account higher ice melting data that wasn't available to the IPCC of sea level rises of 2-3feet by 2100, it will still inundate large parts of these and many other islands , swamping arable land , increasing salinization of larger areas , and contaminating drinking water .
      Many other countries will be affected as well , the Bangladeshi river delta ( and the associated farmlands ) , parts of the Indian and Pakistan coastlines, plus many other countries . Even the levees around places like New Orleans ( or the populations moved) will have to be raised considerably .

      June 9, 2014 at 12:22 pm | Reply
      • Yakobi

        But "climate change" also means fewer hurricanes and tsunami, so Bangladesh will be pummeled far less often which means fewer people drown.

        June 9, 2014 at 12:59 pm |
  12. Marc Velletri

    Unfortunately even if the world were to pursue a crash course in carbon fuel emissions it is doubtful these islands can be saved.

    The Earth is a living thing and it changes as we've seen in the geologic record. Look what happened to Montserrat in 1995: over half the island destroyed by a volcano.

    Plans should be made now for the permanent evacuation of island inhabitants to safer territory.

    June 9, 2014 at 11:55 am | Reply
  13. The me

    Climate change is nothing new. I assume the wealthiest will be the first to move. Even if the ocean doesn't rise as predicted, the inhabitants will have taken some survival measures, and be better off because of it.

    June 9, 2014 at 12:26 pm | Reply
  14. danfrommv

    What happens today if Kriibati is hit by a hurricane? I would think the storm surge would rise above the 7 feet height of the islands. Do they completely evacuate the islands now?

    June 9, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Reply
  15. sly

    We don't really need New York or the eastern seashore anyway ...

    But it's all a hoax – those 97% of scientists are lying – everyone is lying. Where is His birth certificate? Huh?

    Time to start a revolution – let's go skinheads!

    June 9, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Reply
  16. michael

    Should have never dis me.

    June 9, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Reply
  17. Yakobi

    Here's an idea: don't live on an island where a 7-foot swell can wash away your city.

    June 9, 2014 at 12:54 pm | Reply
  18. Yakobi

    Perhaps washing away this "country" is a good thing. What if they're responsible for a a lot of "finning" of sharks for soup?

    June 9, 2014 at 1:07 pm | Reply
  19. Tom

    If the world is so concerned about rising sea levels, why cant they undergo a construction plan to create a giant lake someplace that very little life currently exists, such as the Gobi or Sahara desert? After all, scientist claim we cannot reverse global warming anytime soon, therefore we should take steps to deal with it, until a solution can be found permanently. It would be a win-win situation countries in those region can benefit from a change in landscape, plus have more water available to them with de-salinating plants.

    June 9, 2014 at 1:10 pm | Reply
  20. the truth


    June 9, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Reply
  21. the truth

    Sin will make this nation disappea. Period

    June 9, 2014 at 1:36 pm | Reply
  22. said

    Is Kiribati a sovereign state?

    June 9, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Reply
  23. JohnB

    Recently visited shorelines in HI, CA and GA. No evidence of rising waters. Either all global warming waters are all piling up in Kiribati, or the island is sinking. What is a logical, scientific mind to conclude?

    June 9, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Reply
    • sly

      John, either you are joking, or you are a run-away winner in the "Ignorant post of the week" award.


      I won last week when I posted that "...there is no such thing as global warming because I cannot see a single iceberg melting from my living room window here in Kansas".

      June 9, 2014 at 4:13 pm | Reply
      • JohnB

        Please explain gravity. Global ice is melting–check. Explain GLOBAL sea levels. To believe water level impacts ONLY the island nation of Kiribati would be ignorant of me. I'm not challenging warming. I challenge this as evidence. Until global, this is nonsense.

        June 9, 2014 at 4:44 pm |
    • Unconvinced

      Good point! When ice melts, it doesn't make the water level rise. I'm unconvinced this is caused by "climate change," or mankind.

      June 9, 2014 at 7:39 pm | Reply
  24. Jerry Okamura

    Exactly what has to happen that would guarantee that Global Warming will not occur?

    June 9, 2014 at 2:46 pm | Reply
  25. dustieryder111

    if not soon,it will be sooner or later.

    June 9, 2014 at 3:40 pm | Reply
  26. Jack R

    The story headline....thought it would be a story of a country with no immigration laws...like the USA.

    June 9, 2014 at 4:16 pm | Reply
  27. nolanmar

    What is truly stupefying about this conversation is that people are still debating the “if”, “how”, and “when” of climate change. Climate change is not something that might happen, or even something that will happen. Climate change already DID happen! We have created a positive thermal feedback loop that will now be almost impossible to stop. And every year, humans pump an additional 30,000,000,000 tons of Co2 (the equivalent weight of 300,000 U.S. Aircraft Carriers), into the atmosphere. This is very basic physics and chemistry and those laws don’t care about your politics or religion.

    Humanity now resembles Wile E. Coyote. We have already run off the cliff. Our feet are still pumping wildly in mid-air, but our fate is sealed. It would literally take Divine Intervention to prevent the worst case scenario from coming to pass. It may take thousands of years for this to play out, but there is no going back. We have sentenced our descendants to a future that makes the Dark Ages look like a sunny, summer picnic.

    If someone needs to explain to you why altering the composition of our planet’s atmosphere is an astoundingly bad idea, you have problems you can’t even spell.

    June 9, 2014 at 5:16 pm | Reply
    • kyle123

      You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. No it isn't a matter of if. Climate is changing. It always changes. It has changed for billions of years. Every day it is changing. The question is if there is anything out of the ordinary. And there isn't. This doomsday thermal feedback loop you speak of isn't occuring. The theory was that a doubling of Co2 would raise temperatures by only 1 degree but that that 1 degree would increase water vapor and since water vapor is a much more powerful greenhouse gas temperatures would skyrocket and in turn cause the oceans to release more Co2 and on and on until the end of the world. The problem is... it isn't happening. Global water vapor is down not up. And temperatures have been flat for nearly two decades. When will people wakeup and realize CO2 is more an effect of increased temperature and not so much a cause at least at these concentrations(more a cause at lower atmospheric concentrations). When will people realize that the models that have been horribly inaccurate are built as if Co2 is the driving factor of temperature and build as if co2 will drastically increase water vapor. As if it is that simple. When will we accept that at our current level of technology we are incapable of separating the 10s of thousands of feedback mechanisms needed to have any understanding of what is and what will happen. This is pseudo science hijacked my politicians. This isn't science.

      June 9, 2014 at 6:44 pm | Reply
  28. kyle123

    Let me guess... They are seeking money from western nations to help "protect" their islands from "climate change."

    June 9, 2014 at 6:30 pm | Reply
  29. Brooke Griggs, Life Time Fitness Inc

    Who really cares? I sure as hell don't. I'll be living it up somewhere nice while those poor people are dead.

    June 9, 2014 at 6:47 pm | Reply
  30. Jimmy

    you show no picture and you statement will this nation disappear, is dubious. why not state the nation. So we can focus on how to help it. but you make it sound like it a major power I was scared you was talking about russia

    June 9, 2014 at 7:34 pm | Reply
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