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TED, Anote Tong: My country will be underwater soon — unless we work together (1)

00:11Chris Anderson: Perhaps we could start by just telling us about your country. It's three dots there on the globe. Those dots are pretty huge. I think each one is about the size of California. Tell us about Kiribati.

00:23Anote Tong: Well, let me first begin by saying how deeply grateful I am for this opportunity to share my story with people who do care. I think I've been sharing my story with a lot of people who don't care too much. But Kiribati is comprised of three groups of islands: the Gilbert Group on the west, we have the Phoenix Islands in the middle, and the Line Islands in the east. And quite frankly, Kiribati is perhaps the only country that is actually in the four corners of the world, because we are in the Northern Hemisphere, in the Southern Hemisphere, and also in the east and the west of the International Date Line. These islands are entirely made up of coral atolls, and on average about two meters above sea level And so this is what we have. Usually not more than two kilometers in width. And so, on many occasions, I've been asked by people, "You know, you're suffering, why don't you move back?" They don't understand.They have no concept of what it is that's involved. With the rising sea, they say, "Well, you can move back." And so this is what I tell them. If we move back, we will fall off on the other side of the ocean. OK?But these are the kinds of issues that people don't understand.

01:49CA: So certainly this is just a picture of fragility there. When was it that you yourself realized that there might be impending peril for your country?

01:59AT: Well, the story of climate change has been one that has been going on for quite a number of decades And when I came into office in 2003, I began talking about climate change at the United Nations General Assembly, but not with so much passion, because then there was still this controversy among the scientists whether it was human-induced, whether it was real or it wasn't. But I think that that debate was fairly much concluded in 2007 with the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC, which made a categorical statement that it is real, it's human-induced, and it's predicting some very serious scenariosfor countries like mine. And so that's when I got very serious. In the past, I talked about it. We were worried. But when the scenarios, the predictions came in 2007, it became a real issue for us.

03:04CA: Now, those predictions are, I think, that by 2100, sea levels are forecast to rise perhaps three feet.There's scenarios where it's higher than that, for sure, but what would you say to a skeptic who said,"What's three feet? You're on average six feet above sea level. What's the problem?"

03:23AT: Well, I think it's got to be understood that a marginal rise in sea level would mean a loss of a lot of land, because much of the land is low. And quite apart from that, we are getting the swells at the moment So it's not about getting two feet. I think what many people do not understand is they think climate change is something that is happening in the future. Well, we're at the very bottom end of the spectrum. It's already with us. We have communities who already have been dislocated. They have had to move, and every parliament session, I'm getting complaints from different communities asking for assistance to build seawalls, to see what we can do about the freshwater lens because it's being destroyed, and so in my trips to the different islands, I'm seeing evidence of communities which are now having to cope with the loss of food crops, the contamination of the water lenses, and I see these communities perhaps leaving, having to relocate, within five to 10 years.

04:31CA: And then, I think the country suffered its first cyclone, and this is connected, yes? What happened here?

04:38AT: Well, we're on the equator, and I'm sure many of you understand that when you're on the equator,it's supposed to be in the doldrums. We're not supposed to get the cyclones. We create them, and then we send them either north or south.

04:52(Laughter)

04:53But they aren't supposed to come back But for the first time, at the beginning of this year, the Cyclone Pam, which destroyed Vanuatu, and in the process, the very edges of it actually touched our two southernmost islands, and all of Tuvalu was underwater when Hurricane Pam struck. But for our two southernmost islands, we had waves come over half the island, and so this has never happened before.It's a new experience. And I've just come back from my own constituency, and I've seen these beautiful trees which had been there for decades, they've been totally destroyed. So this is what's happening, but when we talk about the rising sea level, we think it's something that happens gradually. It comes with the winds, it comes with the swells, and so they can be magnified, but what we are beginning to witness is the change in the weather pattern, which is perhaps the more urgent challenge that we will face sooner than perhaps the rising sea level.

06:02CA: So the country is already seeing effects now. As you look forward, what are your options as a country, as a nation?

06:11AT: Well, I've been telling this story every year. I think I visit a number of -- I've been traveling the world to try and get people to understand. We have a plan, we think we have a plan And on one occasion, I think I spoke in Geneva and there was a gentleman who was interviewing me on something like this, and I said, "We are looking at floating islands," and he thought it was funny, but somebody said, "No, this is not funny. These people are looking for solutions." And so I have been looking at floating islands. The Japanese are interested in building floating islands.

06:48But, as a country, we have made a commitment that no matter what happens, we will try as much as possible to stay and continue to exist as a nation. What that will take, it's going to be something quite significant, very, very substantial. Either we live on floating islands, or we have to build up the islands to continue to stay out of the water as the sea level rises and as the storms get more severe. But even that, it's going to be very, very difficult to get the kind of resourcing that we would need.

07:22CA: And then the only recourse is some form of forced migration.

07:26AT: Well, we are also looking at that because in the event that nothing comes forward from the international community, we are preparing, we don't want to be caught like what's happening in EuropeOK? We don't want to mass migrate at some point in time. We want to be able to give the people the choice today, those who choose and want to do that, to migrate. We don't want something to happen that they are forced to migrate without having been prepared to do so. Of course, our culture is very different, our society is very different, and once we migrate into a different environment, a different culture, there's a whole lot of adjustments that are required.

08:04CA: Well, there's forced migration in your country's past, and I think just this week, just yesterday or the day before yesterday, you visited these people. What happened here?

What's the story here?

08:17AT: Yes, and I'm sorry, I think somebody was asking why we were sneaking off to visit that place. I had a very good reason, because we have a community of Kiribati people living in that part of the Solomon Islands, but these were people who were relocated from the Phoenix Islands, in fact, in the 1960s. There was serious drought, and the people could not continue to live on the island, and so they were moved to live here in the Solomon Islands. And so yesterday it was very interesting to meet with these people. They didn't know who I was They hadn't heard of me. Some of them later recognized me, but I think they were very happy. Later they really wanted to have the opportunity to welcome me formally. But I think what I saw yesterday was very interesting because here I see our people. I spoke in our language, and of course they spoke back, they replied, but their accent, they are beginning not to be able to speak Kiribati properly. I saw them, there was this lady with red teeth. She was chewing betel nuts, and it's not something we do in Kiribati. We don't chew betel nuts. I met also a family who have married the local people here, and so this is what is happening. As you go into another community, there are bound to be changes There is bound to be a certain loss of identity, and this is what we will be looking for in the future if and when we do migrate.

09:49CA: It must have been just an extraordinarily emotional day because of these questions about identity,the joy of seeing you and perhaps an emphasized sense of what they had lost. And it's very inspiring to hear you say you're going to fight to the end to try to preserve the nation in a location.

10:09AT: This is our wish. Nobody wants ever to leave their home, and so it's been a very difficult decision for me. As a leader, you don't make plans to leave your island, your home, and so I've been asked on a number of occasions, "So how do you feel?" And it doesn't feel good at all. It's an emotional thing, and I've tried to live with it, and I know that on occasions, I'm accused of not trying to solve the problem because I can't solve the problem. It's something that's got to be done collectively.

10:42 Climate change is a global phenomenon, and as I've often argued, unfortunately, the countries, when we come to the United Nations -- I was in a meeting with the Pacific Island Forum countries where Australia and New Zealand are also members, and we had an argument. There was a bit of a story in the news because they were arguing that to cut emissions, it would be something that they're unable to do because it would affect the industries And so here I was saying, OK, I hear you, I understand what you're saying, but try also to understand what I'm saying because if you do not cut your emissions, then our survival is on the line. And so it's a matter for you to weigh this, these moral issues. It's about industry as opposed to the survival of a people.

11:35CA: You know, I ask you yesterday what made you angry, and you said, "I don't get angry." But then you paused. I think this made you angry.

11:43AT: I'd refer you to my earlier statement at the United Nations. I was very angry, very frustrated and then depressed. There was a sense of futility that we are fighting a fight that we have no hope of winning. I had to change my approach I had to become more reasonable because I thought people would listen to somebody who was rational, but I remain radically rational, whatever that is.

12:10(Laughter)

12:12CA: Now, a core part of your nation's identity is fishing. I think you said pretty much everyone is involved in fishing in some way.

12:19AT: Well, we eat fish every day, every day, and I think there is no doubt that our rate of consumption of fish is perhaps the highest in the world. We don't have a lot of livestock, so it's fish that we depend on.

12:34CA: So you're dependent on fish, both at the local level and for the revenues that the country receives from the global fishing business for tuna, and yet despite that, a few years ago you took a very radical step. Can you tell us about that? I think something happened right here in the Phoenix Islands.

12:52AT: Let me give some of the background of what fish means for us. We have one of the largest tuna fisheries remaining in the world. In the Pacific, I think we own something like 60 percent of the remaining tuna fisheries, and it remains relatively healthy for some species, but not all



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00:11Chris Anderson: Perhaps we could start by just telling us about your country. It's three dots there on the globe. Those dots are pretty huge. I think each one is about the size of California. Tell us about Kiribati.

00:23Anote Tong: Well, let me first begin by saying how deeply grateful I am for this opportunity to share my story with people who do care. I think I've been sharing my story with a lot of people who don't care too much. But Kiribati is comprised of three groups of islands: the Gilbert Group on the west, we have the Phoenix Islands in the middle, and the Line Islands in the east. And quite frankly, Kiribati is perhaps the only country that is actually in the four corners of the world, because we are in the Northern Hemisphere, in the Southern Hemisphere, and also in the east and the west of the International Date Line. These islands are entirely made up of coral atolls, and on average about two meters above sea level And so this is what we have. Usually not more than two kilometers in width. And so, on many occasions, I've been asked by people, "You know, you're suffering, why don't you move back?" They don't understand.They have no concept of what it is that's involved. With the rising sea, they say, "Well, you can move back." And so this is what I tell them. If we move back, we will fall off on the other side of the ocean. OK?But these are the kinds of issues that people don't understand.

01:49CA: So certainly this is just a picture of fragility there. When was it that you yourself realized that there might be impending peril for your country?

01:59AT: Well, the story of climate change has been one that has been going on for quite a number of decades And when I came into office in 2003, I began talking about climate change at the United Nations General Assembly, but not with so much passion, because then there was still this controversy among the scientists whether it was human-induced, whether it was real or it wasn't. But I think that that debate was fairly much concluded in 2007 with the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC, which made a categorical statement that it is real, it's human-induced, and it's predicting some very serious scenariosfor countries like mine. And so that's when I got very serious. In the past, I talked about it. We were worried. But when the scenarios, the predictions came in 2007, it became a real issue for us.

03:04CA: Now, those predictions are, I think, that by 2100, sea levels are forecast to rise perhaps three feet.There's scenarios where it's higher than that, for sure, but what would you say to a skeptic who said,"What's three feet? You're on average six feet above sea level. What's the problem?"

03:23AT: Well, I think it's got to be understood that a marginal rise in sea level would mean a loss of a lot of land, because much of the land is low. And quite apart from that, we are getting the swells at the moment So it's not about getting two feet. I think what many people do not understand is they think climate change is something that is happening in the future. Well, we're at the very bottom end of the spectrum. It's already with us. We have communities who already have been dislocated. They have had to move, and every parliament session, I'm getting complaints from different communities asking for assistance to build seawalls, to see what we can do about the freshwater lens because it's being destroyed, and so in my trips to the different islands, I'm seeing evidence of communities which are now having to cope with the loss of food crops, the contamination of the water lenses, and I see these communities perhaps leaving, having to relocate, within five to 10 years.

04:31CA: And then, I think the country suffered its first cyclone, and this is connected, yes? What happened here?

04:38AT: Well, we're on the equator, and I'm sure many of you understand that when you're on the equator,it's supposed to be in the doldrums. We're not supposed to get the cyclones. We create them, and then we send them either north or south.

04:52(Laughter)

04:53But they aren't supposed to come back But for the first time, at the beginning of this year, the Cyclone Pam, which destroyed Vanuatu, and in the process, the very edges of it actually touched our two southernmost islands, and all of Tuvalu was underwater when Hurricane Pam struck. But for our two southernmost islands, we had waves come over half the island, and so this has never happened before.It's a new experience. And I've just come back from my own constituency, and I've seen these beautiful trees which had been there for decades, they've been totally destroyed. So this is what's happening, but when we talk about the rising sea level, we think it's something that happens gradually. It comes with the winds, it comes with the swells, and so they can be magnified, but what we are beginning to witness is the change in the weather pattern, which is perhaps the more urgent challenge that we will face sooner than perhaps the rising sea level.

06:02CA: So the country is already seeing effects now. As you look forward, what are your options as a country, as a nation?

06:11AT: Well, I've been telling this story every year. I think I visit a number of -- I've been traveling the world to try and get people to understand. We have a plan, we think we have a plan And on one occasion, I think I spoke in Geneva and there was a gentleman who was interviewing me on something like this, and I said, "We are looking at floating islands," and he thought it was funny, but somebody said, "No, this is not funny. These people are looking for solutions." And so I have been looking at floating islands. The Japanese are interested in building floating islands.

06:48But, as a country, we have made a commitment that no matter what happens, we will try as much as possible to stay and continue to exist as a nation. What that will take, it's going to be something quite significant, very, very substantial. Either we live on floating islands, or we have to build up the islands to continue to stay out of the water as the sea level rises and as the storms get more severe. But even that, it's going to be very, very difficult to get the kind of resourcing that we would need.

07:22CA: And then the only recourse is some form of forced migration.

07:26AT: Well, we are also looking at that because in the event that nothing comes forward from the international community, we are preparing, we don't want to be caught like what's happening in EuropeOK? We don't want to mass migrate at some point in time. We want to be able to give the people the choice today, those who choose and want to do that, to migrate. We don't want something to happen that they are forced to migrate without having been prepared to do so. Of course, our culture is very different, our society is very different, and once we migrate into a different environment, a different culture, there's a whole lot of adjustments that are required.

08:04CA: Well, there's forced migration in your country's past, and I think just this week, just yesterday or the day before yesterday, you visited these people. What happened here?

What's the story here?

08:17AT: Yes, and I'm sorry, I think somebody was asking why we were sneaking off to visit that place. I had a very good reason, because we have a community of Kiribati people living in that part of the Solomon Islands, but these were people who were relocated from the Phoenix Islands, in fact, in the 1960s. There was serious drought, and the people could not continue to live on the island, and so they were moved to live here in the Solomon Islands. And so yesterday it was very interesting to meet with these people. They didn't know who I was They hadn't heard of me. Some of them later recognized me, but I think they were very happy. Later they really wanted to have the opportunity to welcome me formally. But I think what I saw yesterday was very interesting because here I see our people. I spoke in our language, and of course they spoke back, they replied, but their accent, they are beginning not to be able to speak Kiribati properly. I saw them, there was this lady with red teeth. She was chewing betel nuts, and it's not something we do in Kiribati. We don't chew betel nuts. I met also a family who have married the local people here, and so this is what is happening. As you go into another community, there are bound to be changes There is bound to be a certain loss of identity, and this is what we will be looking for in the future if and when we do migrate.

09:49CA: It must have been just an extraordinarily emotional day because of these questions about identity,the joy of seeing you and perhaps an emphasized sense of what they had lost. And it's very inspiring to hear you say you're going to fight to the end to try to preserve the nation in a location.

10:09AT: This is our wish. Nobody wants ever to leave their home, and so it's been a very difficult decision for me. As a leader, you don't make plans to leave your island, your home, and so I've been asked on a number of occasions, "So how do you feel?" And it doesn't feel good at all. It's an emotional thing, and I've tried to live with it, and I know that on occasions, I'm accused of not trying to solve the problem because I can't solve the problem. It's something that's got to be done collectively.

10:42 Climate change is a global phenomenon, and as I've often argued, unfortunately, the countries, when we come to the United Nations -- I was in a meeting with the Pacific Island Forum countries where Australia and New Zealand are also members, and we had an argument. There was a bit of a story in the news because they were arguing that to cut emissions, it would be something that they're unable to do because it would affect the industries And so here I was saying, OK, I hear you, I understand what you're saying, but try also to understand what I'm saying because if you do not cut your emissions, then our survival is on the line. And so it's a matter for you to weigh this, these moral issues. It's about industry as opposed to the survival of a people.

11:35CA: You know, I ask you yesterday what made you angry, and you said, "I don't get angry." But then you paused. I think this made you angry.

11:43AT: I'd refer you to my earlier statement at the United Nations. I was very angry, very frustrated and then depressed. There was a sense of futility that we are fighting a fight that we have no hope of winning. I had to change my approach I had to become more reasonable because I thought people would listen to somebody who was rational, but I remain radically rational, whatever that is.

12:10(Laughter)

12:12CA: Now, a core part of your nation's identity is fishing. I think you said pretty much everyone is involved in fishing in some way.

12:19AT: Well, we eat fish every day, every day, and I think there is no doubt that our rate of consumption of fish is perhaps the highest in the world. We don't have a lot of livestock, so it's fish that we depend on.

12:34CA: So you're dependent on fish, both at the local level and for the revenues that the country receives from the global fishing business for tuna, and yet despite that, a few years ago you took a very radical step. Can you tell us about that? I think something happened right here in the Phoenix Islands.

12:52AT: Let me give some of the background of what fish means for us. We have one of the largest tuna fisheries remaining in the world. In the Pacific, I think we own something like 60 percent of the remaining tuna fisheries, and it remains relatively healthy for some species, but not all


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