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November 9, 2016

Responding To: The Global Challenge of Climate-Induced Migration

Kiribati and Anote Tong's Plea: Climate Change Endangers the Safety and Livelihoods of Human Beings Worldwide

Gaia Mattiace

Anote Tong’s remarks elucidated a concept that often escapes many people: climate change will not simply impact the balance of our ecosystems, it will impact human beings all around the planet in a plethora of catastrophic ways. Many take for granted the very immediate and threatening impacts that climate change has on communities around the world, and therefore fail to see one of the many reasons why we must take prompt action on this issue. At its core, mitigating climate change is not only a biological and environmental issue, but also a humanitarian issue that we cannot allow to go unaddressed.

As Tong stressed, climate change is already having disastrous impacts on small island development states or SIDs, including Kiribati. These island nations are threatened by climate change induced sea-level rise, cyclones, rising temperatures, and changing rainfall patterns, as are all other countries around the world. However, because of their small size and remoteness, SIDS experience these effects in a magnified manner and risk losing essential adaptive capacities and ecosystem services. For example, coral reef ecosystems are essential resources for island communities, but rising sea-surface temperatures have caused increased coral bleaching and reef degradation. Rising sea levels have also put communities living on low-lying coastal areas at risk of losing their homes and livelihoods.[1] Tong discussed how Kiribati has been considering some unconventional solutions to these problems, like floating islands, but also expressed that they are not adequate solutions for the scale of displacement that will occur. In fact, this issue affects many countries and communities worldwide. The issue of climate migrants is not just a hotly discussed topic in the global community; it has also become an unfortunate reality. Climate migrants are often members of geographically vulnerable and poor communities who are forced to leave their homes due to flooding caused by heavy rainfall and sea level rise. These devastating events not only make homes uninhabitable, but also destroy livelihoods by ruining crops and threatening livestock health.[2] These consequences of climate change are clearly linked to severe impacts on people’s lives, both in Kiribati and in other SIDS.

Furthermore, global climate change detrimentally impacts human health and survival. Hotter days and longer heat waves increase the number of heat related deaths; worsening air quality increases respiratory and cardiovascular issues; extreme weather events increase the risk of injury and death; changing rainfall patterns and rising temperatures increase the range and number of disease carrying vectors, like ticks and mosquitoes; and heavy rainfall and larger amounts of runoff threaten the safety of food and water, increasing the levels of gastrointestinal illnesses and deaths, especially in poor communities.[3] Climate change also increases the risk of food insecurity on a global scale, as higher temperatures and changing rainfall patterns threaten the availability of staple crops. [4]

So what does this mean for us and for the global community? We need to make sacrifices for the greater good and take prompt action. Kiribati already has, by closing 11 percent of its Exclusive Economic Zone from all forms of commercial fishing, a main staple from which Kiribati derives its revenues. We need to make compromises and changes in order to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and our global footprint. We must stay true to and continue to improve upon the promises made at the COP21 in Paris. The only way to do so is to promote climate change mitigation by continuing to make our voices heard at the national and global levels, and by supporting the efforts of the private sector, as well as state, county, and city governments. We must show that we, as global citizens, see climate change as a reality, feel climate change’s effects everyday, and will not stand idle in the face of inaction. Climate change is happening around the world and only positive change on our behalf will allow us to fight back and survive.

[1] "Climate Change: SIDS Action Platform." Island Voices, Global Voices.

[2]"5 Facts on Climate Migrants." United Nations University - Institute for Environment and Human Security. November 26, 2015.

[3] "Climate Impacts on Human Health." EPA.

[4] "Climate Impacts on Food Security." WFP | United Nations World Food Programme - Fighting Hunger Worldwide.

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