November 27, 2015

Kiribati President Tong and no new coal

Blog by CEO Blair Palese on the recent visit by Kiribati President Anote Tong

When I was a kid, I used to believe that there was a giant plug in the middle of the ocean, if you pulled it out, the sea would drain away. In the near future, the inhabitants of Kiribati, an island nation in the central Pacific Ocean, and he rest of the Pacific islands might wish the plug in the ocean was real because, in the unfortunate words of Australia’s Minister Peter Dutton, that the sea is indeed ‘lapping at their doors’.

Encroaching tides and battering waves are menacing the scattered low-lying islands and coral atolls of the region. Most of the 811 square kilometres of land in Kiribati is only two to three metres above sea level. So, it’s no surprise that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has identified this nation, as one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change.

I was fortunate enough to spend time last week with Kiribati’s President Anote Tong on his recent visit to Melbourne and Sydney en route to the Paris Climate Conference where he will be attempting, along with other nations, to seek a legally binding agreement that keeps any temperature rise due to climate change below 2 degrees Celsius. President Tong says that “there is a worldwide trend to move on climate change, and I believe Australia needs to come forward on this, particularly because it means a great deal to the countries that Australia has very significant relations with, in particular, the Pacific island countries.”

President Tong is also calling for a very important international moratorium on the opening of new coalmines, a call that he argues as reasonable considering the serious problem of rising sea levels making life untenable for the Kiribati people. “If we don’t do anything, as a global community, if we don’t do anything significant, then countries like mine, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands, the Maldives, the low-lying countries will be underwater,” he says.

In the language of the Kiribati people, the word for ‘land’ and ‘people’ are the same. I wonder what will be left for these wonderful people – and their beautiful cultures – if their land is allowed to sink beneath the waves because of our inaction. Sadly, we all know that the plug in the ocean will never be found and it is these people, who have done the least to contribute to climate change, who will feel the biggest impacts.

As climate warming drives sea level upward, the notion of Kiribati disappearing is sadly a real possibility. This weekend, the world will take to the streets for People’s Climate March events around the world to call for 80% of fossil fuels to be kept in the ground and for a rapid just transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050. supports Kiribati’s push for an international moratorium on the opening of new coalmines and believes Australia must show leadership for our region to shift our economy and ensure giant new mines like those proposed for the Galilee Basin, Liverpool Plains and Hunter Valley cannot go ahead.

The time to take action is now. The time to head the call of our island neighbours and do all we can to ensure they have a future is too important to ignore. Join us this weekend at events around Australia: and sign onto the call for a moratorium on new coalmines: