Kiribati - The story of climate refugees

Kiribati is a pacific island nation, with white sand beaches, and deep blue lagoons.

" No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change." -Barack Obama

Kerala is witnessing an unusual summer with people and cattle dying from heat strokes, frequent forest fires, and unbearable heat. This heat is low when we compare it to that of our neighbouring states. But, we haven't yet adapted to this level of heat and global warming is taking a toll on our lives. Water bodies are drying up. What if this situation force us to leave our lands? Climate change has begun to force people leave their homeland and take refuge in other countries! The first climate refugees of our era are the people of Kiribati.

Kiribati is a pacific island nation, with white sand beaches, and deep blue lagoons. The climate is similar to that of coastal areas in Kerala. The main trade comprises of Copra and fish. Kiribati has 32 atolls and one solitary island. Atoll is a ring shaped coral island. The picturesque beauty and unique culture of the island has always welcomed tourists from different parts of the world. It was a happy little country before some 20 years. Then, suddenly things began to change.

Two small uninhabited islets disappeared underwater. Sea level began to rise. Now the island is just six feet above the sea level. It may drown at any moment. Rise in sea levels have destroyed crops and increased soil salinisation. People depend on processed foods, but not many can afford it due to over population-induced unemployment. Coconut trees are drying up due to salinity in soil. Sea walls built around the island are of no use when high tides hit the country. A sea wall was once built to protect water pipeline and electricity cables could not withstand the tide and now sea water is ushering into fresh water collected for human consumption.

Domestic and human waste are not properly treated and they enter the lagoons causing severe pollution. The economy is going down day by day. People thus have begun to migrate from Kiribati as it may submerge at any time if the tide rises a bit more than the usual one.

What are the factors that caused this crisis in Kiribati? Global warming is the primary cause of the current sea level rise. Heat trapping gases already in the atmosphere have caused unavoidable increases in temperature and sea level rises as oceans become more warm and glaciers melt rapidly. Global average sea level has increased 8 inches since 1880. In several parts of the world, islands have begun to submerge under water. Even if global warming is brought to zero in 2020, for instance, sea level will still continue to rise as oceans are adjusting to changes that we have already made to the atmosphere! We shouldn't forget that higher sea levels coincide with typhoons and hurricanes. The harm that we did to nature comes back in several forms.

The climate refugees are people who are forced to leave their home region due to sudden or long-term changes to their local environment. But, they do not have an accepted definition or recognition under international law. The global legal or diplomat community still have not reached a consensus as to who should qualify as a climate refugee or environmental migrant. Unless climate refugees are recognized under any international convention or treaty, nations are not bound to accept their entry or grant them refugee status! This is a wide and threatening gap that exists in our International Environmental Law.


This needs to be addressed soon. India is one among the countries that is facing serious changes to its climate pattern. We should necessarily take the initiative at the United Nations to discuss this contemporary issue our world faces. We, as youngsters, can also form campaigns backed by our college level nature clubs and contribute our ideas and solutions to this issue to the government. We need to realize that this problem is ours too! Or else, by 2050, we will also have to pack our bags and leave to other countries seeking asylum. UN has already projected that we will have 50 million refugees by 2020 and they will have to flood towards the global north. Let us not forget the famous saying – Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.

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