Current Forecast: Kiribati and a Changing Climate
For Kiribati—a Pacific archipelago whose average elevation is less than 2 metres above the sea— large parts of the country could be underwater by 2050.
In the next eight decades, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) projects a 0.9 metre (3 feet) increase in global sea levels. Kirabti’s surrounding sea levels will rise by up to 0.17 metres (0.6 feet) come 2030. By 2050, the World Bank predicts rising sea tides and increasing storm surges will swallow half of Bikenibeu, a Kiribati settlement that is home to 6,500 people.
The island nation also remains one of the world’s most vulnerable countries, subject to the devastation wrought by climate change’s extreme weather patterns. But the nation remains determined to counter the forecast, devising a contingency plan to ensure the protection of its 110,000 residents.
• The country, in brief. Home to more than 110,000 people, Kiribati is made up of 33 low-lying atolls spread across 3.5 million square kilometres of ocean. At their highest elevation, the islands average 1.8 metres (6 feet) above sea level. The island’s total land mass makes up 800 square kilometres (497 miles).
• The island’s existence is in jeopardy. According to the IPCC, a one-meter sea-level rise (3 feet) could inundate two-thirds of Kiribati by the end of the century.
• Shifting weather patterns have eroded Kiribati’s land, disrupted food and clean-water supplies and increased the prevalence of disease. Since 1950, annual temperatures have increased in Kiribati’s capital, Tarawa, at roughly 0.18° Celsius (32.3° Fahrenheit) per decade. Warming temperatures, coupled with heightened ferocity of tidal storms and coastal flooding, destroys the island’s ecosystems; saltwater that spills over from storm surges devastates land and surrounding property, and sullies reservoirs that capture and clean groundwater for drinking and agricultural supplies. The islands have additionally reported a surge in water-borne diseases, among other climate-change-induced diseases, including cholera and Dengue fever.
• Warming ocean temperatures, coupled with increased ocean acidification, disrupts sea life at the cornerstone of the island’s economy. Kiribati depends almost entirely on its fishing sector for food and revenue. Ocean acidification, however, cripples algae and produces toxins that kill off marine life. Kiribati’s maximum catch potential is expected to decrease by 70 percent.
• Kiribati is one of 43 nations on the Climate Vulnerable Forum and has been a vocal proponent in limiting temperature rise from global warming to 1.5° Celsius. The Paris Agreement on Climate Change seeks to limit temperature rise to 2° Celsius.