UN Secretary-General observes the impact of climate change in Kiribati

From 4 to 5 September 2011, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon made an official visit to the Republic of Kiribati in the Pacific to observe the direct impact of climate change.

Aerial view of the main island of Tarawa

The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, lists combatting global climate change as one of the corner stones of his second term action agenda. From 4 to 5 September 2011, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon made a two-day official visit to the Republic of Kiribati in the Pacific to observe the direct impact of climate change on this tiny island nation. Kiribati consists of 33 atolls spreading over the Pacific along the equator. Total land area is only 811. Total population stands at 100,798 (as of 2004). The highest elevation of the capital Tarawa is a mere 3 meters.

An aerial view of the main island of Tarawa and Kiribati flag
The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Mrs. Ban arrive at Bairiki International Airport at Tarawa, Republic of Kiribati

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Mrs. Ban arrive.

Bairiki International Airport at Tarawa, Republic of Kiribati.

The highway (the sole road network) cutting cross the Tarawa Island.

The highway (the sole road network) cutting cross the Tarawa Island. During ‘king tide’ or storms, the road becomes impassable. The President of Kiribati, Honorable Mr. Anote Tong, has stated that the total submergence of the country is no longer avoidable and has announced a plan to relocate its entire population to third countries.

Kiribati Highway
The UN Secretary-General meets Kiribati elders

Meeting the tranditional leaders.

After a brief rest, the UN Secretary-General proceeded to Maneaba (traditional community meeting place) to meet the elders who have strong influence over the nation’s social issues. After a traditional welcome ceremony, Mr. Ban addressed the elders: 'We are both concerned about climate change. I hope by coming here ... I can call (global) attention to this urgent problem. Many countries are dealing with climate change but here climate change is threatening your territory, your culture, your very way of life.'

The UN Secretary-General and Kiribati President Tong

Meeting with the President of the Republic of Kiribati.

The UN Secretary-General then met President Anote Tong at State House. Speaking before the state dinner, Mr. Ban mentioned, 'We have to protect our world so that our children and grandchildren never have to wonder how we could have been so irresponsible. Our only choice is to act now.'

The UN Secretary-General at breakfast discussion with Kiribati Environment Minister Nikora

Breakfast discussion with Karibati Environment Minister.

The second day of the UN Secretary-General's visit started with a breakfast meeting with the Minister of Environment, Lands and Agricultural Development (MELAD) Mr. Amberoti Nikora (opposite Mr. Ban) who briefed the Secretary-General on how the rising sea level negatively affects the daily life of the Kiribati people. After the meeting, the UN Secretary-General proceeded to some of the most affected communities.

Tebikenikora (Tebikenikoora) Village.

People of Tebikenikora (Tebikenikoora) Village waiting for the arrival of the UN Secretary-General.

People of Tebikenikora Village
The UN Secretary-General at Tebikenikora Village

Tebikenikora Village.

The UN Secretary-General observing degraded land areas at Tebikenikora Village.

Destroyed seawall

Destroyed seawall at Tebikenikora Village.

Destroyed seawall. Sea water steadily erodes the land.

Seawater invasion at Tebikenikora Village

Seawater invasion.

Tebikenikora Village at low tide. Seawater reaches the center of the village during high tide.

'Trees of Life' dying.

Coconut trees, often called 'Tree of Life' among the Pacific islanders, are dying in many places due to salinization caused by rising sea level.

Coconut trees dying
Seawater invasion at Tebikenikora Village

Seawater invasion.

One of the houses within the Tebikenikora Village. How much longer can they hang on?

Home gone.

Mr. Kaure Paoro, a former resident of Kabintemaiku Village, was forced to relocate to nearby settlement after the village became inhabitable in 2001.

Home gone

The legacy of a lost village.

What is left of an old seawall. Residents had to abandon Kabintemaiku Village in 2001. The area was completely washed out by 2003.

Remnant of seawalls
Optimistic Kiribati children

Innocent and optimistic.

The children of the Tebikenikora Village. During an earlier community meeting, a tearful young student appealed to the Secretary-General: ‘I cannot sleep at night worrying that the sea water might destroy my house and take me away. What will happen to me?’ What can we do to protect their (our) future?

The highest point of Tarawa at 3 meters.

The UN Secretary-General and the Minister of Environment, Lands and Agricultural Development at the highest (3 meters) point of Tarawa.

The UN Secretary-General at the highest point (3 meters) of Tarawa
Delivering a message on climate change

Delivering a message on climate change.

A local youth group delivering a climate change message with a song.

The UN Secretary-General with Kiribati MPs

Meeting with Kiribati Members of Parliament.

The UN Secretary-General and Members of Parliament exchanging their views on climate change at Maneaba-n-Maungatabu (House of Parliament).

The UN Secretary-General on a ship simulator

Navigating through the waves of climate change.

Navigating through the waves of climate change - The UN Secretary-General trying his hand at a ship simulator at Marine Training Center.

Mangrove planting

Mangrove planting.

The UN Secretary-General and Mrs. Ban planting mangrove.

Kiribati mangrove planting campaign

National mangrove planting campaign.

Government-led campaign promotes planting of mangrove along the coasts of Tarawa. It is one of the effective countermeasures against land erosion, albeit not a permanent solution.

The UN Secretary-General and Kiribati President Tong at interview

Questions, questions.

The UN Secretary-General and President Tong at press conference after mangrove planting. 'I will bring your concerns back to the world, to the United Nations General Assembly, to the climate change negotiations in Durban later this year and to the Rio20 Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012.'

The UN Secreretary-General bids farewell to Kiribati

Off to Pacific Islands Forum leaders summit.

The UN Secretary-General bids farewell to the people of Kiribati as President Tong (behind) looks on. 'I will keep pressing for progress until we get real results.' He departed for New Zealand where he presented his observations at the Pacific Islands Forum leaders summit.