The island nation rising up to be a hero for climate action

Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo shares why he supports the Kiribati president’s demand for an immediate moratorium on all new coal mines and coal mine expansions.

kiribati coastline
Scenes from Kiribati's coastline. Due to climate change, this entire island nation with a population of over 100,000 could disappear. Image: Shutterstock

Out in the central Pacific Ocean, straddling the equator and the International Date Line, lies an island group in Micronesia called Kiribati (pronounced ‘Kiri-bas’). It’s not “famous” like Hawaii, Bali or Tahiti but its scenery is just as, or even more magnificent. Its flag – a bird flying over the sun as it sets on the ocean horizon – is testament to its peace, beauty and tranquility: stunning lagoons, white sandy beaches and a thriving traditional culture.

But unfortunately, due to climate change, this entire island nation with a population of over 100,000 could disappear. After spending a few short days here I’ve been both inspired by the spirit of the people and concerned with the enormity of the problems they are facing. 

The people of the low-lying islands of Kiribati, while being the least responsible for climate change, are most exposed to the consequences of it. Every high tide now carries the potential for damage and flooding. These people know first hand that climate change is not just an environmental crisis – it’s also a human rights disaster. The leader of the country, President Anote Tong, is facing the real possibility of watching his nation slowly drown and the real threat that his people will be made climate migrants.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fifth assessment stressed that sea level rise projected this century will present ‘severe flood and erosion risks’ for low-lying islands, with the potential also for degradation of freshwater resources. Every high tide now carries with it the potential for damage and flooding. In some places the sea level is rising by 1.2 centimetres a year, four times faster than the global average. 

That’s why I came to Kiribati and am standing with President Tong. Together we’re making a groundbreaking call to action – to demand an immediate moratorium on all new coal mines and coal mine expansions.  In his own words:

“As leaders, we have a moral obligation to ensure that the future of our children, our grandchildren and their children is safe and secure. For their sake, I urge you to support this call for a moratorium on new coal mines and coal mine expansions.” 

Stopping the expansion of coal will not fix the climate crisis by itself, but it’s a necessary and important step. As a global community we cannot, on one hand, claim to be taking action for the climate, while on the other, continue to expand the most destructive of fuels.

It’s simple: people who are serious about tackling climate change must demand a world with fewer coal mines. These mines, and the CEOs profiting from them, stand in the way of a 100 per cent renewable energy-powered world.

Already, a fossil-free transition is slowly being made. 2014 was the first year that renewable energy grew more than fossil fuels globally. In the US 200 coal-fired power plants have been scheduled for retirement; Europe’s coal use has fallen almost 50% since its peak 30 years ago; and China has been reducing coal use for the past 18 months. On top of that two major banks have just pulled out of investing in what is pegged to be one of Australia’s largest coal mines.

World leaders now have the opportunity to show concern, responsibility and courage by supporting this moratorium in the lead up to the Paris climate talks in December. The approval and construction of each new coal mine undermines the intent of the Paris talks. Every nation that signs on to the moratorium strengthens it.

A complete end to new coal will be the next step on the road to saving our planet and achieving climate justice. I ask everyone who is serious about taking on climate change to contact their Governments and ask their politicians to stand with President Tong. The island nation of Kiribati depends on it.

In coming weeks we will be reaching out to all of you to join hands across the globe and help us to make this moratorium a reality.

Take action. Demand leaders Act for Climate here.

Dr Kumi Naidoo is the Executive Director of Greenpeace International. This article is republished from the Greenpeace blog.

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