Kiribati Buying Land from Dictatorship to Flee Rising Sea Levels


Waterworld, Kevin Costner

Faced with the threat of rising sea levels, the Pacific island nation of Kiribati is negotiating to buy land in Fiji to relocate its citizens. Many of Kiribati's atolls are just a few feet above sea level, so it's particularly climate sensitive. Endorsed by Kiribati President Anute Tong, over 6,000 acres (around 9 square miles) on Fiji's second largest island would be sold for $9.6 million.

Kiribati has around 113,000 people living on its islands, while Fiji is relatively larger, with 860,000 residents. In an interview with the state-run television network Fiji One, President Tong wanted the relocation, if necessary, to be gradually phased in:

We don't want 100,000 people from Kiribati coming to Fiji in one go. They need to find employment, not as refugees but as immigrant people with skills to offer, people who have a place in the community, people who will not be seen as second-class citizens.

Leaving aside the fact that I-Kiribati would be fleeing one Pacific island nation for another, Fiji is currently an autocratic state. In 2006, Commodore Josaia Voreqe "Frank" Bainimarama led a military coup and has since become prime minister. According to Human Rights Watch:

Over the past five years, Fiji's military government has aggressively curtailed Fiji Islanders' rights to freedom of speech, press, peaceful assembly, and association, the groups said. The military and police have arbitrarily arrested and detained human rights defenders, journalists, and labor and religious leaders.

In addition, Bainimarama has restricted religious freedom, most prominently Methodists. (His coup was widely criticized by Methodist leadership, while over one-third of Fijians are Methodist). While Bainimarama technically lifted martial law earlier this year, he has replaced it with emergency laws that are just as restrictive. Human rights activists argued this merely "cuts and pastes" from martial law.

Instead of relocating to Fiji, Kiribati should consider Seasteading, autonomous communities that would based in international waters. It's not that far-fetched. President Tong actually wanted to build floating islands off the coasts of Kiribati. The proposed price tag would have topped $2 billion. But since Kiribati's entire GDP in 2011 was $612 million, Tong wanted the international community to pay for it. They declined.

In addition, the Seasteading Institute has actually toyed with the idea. After all, seasteads are "geographically flexible." This would be mutually beneficial for both parties: Seasteading would get first adopters and I-Kiribati can live in a place that isn't sinking or ruled by an autocrat. In addition, the islands do have some capital to invest in Seasteading. In 1956, the Gilbert Islands established the Revenue Equalisation Reserve Fund, to save money from mining guano, which was used in fertilizer. In 2008, the fund was worth $400 million. (So yeah, Kiribati literally made money from shit.)

For more on obscure island nations, climate change, and Seasteading, here's me on St. Kitts and Nevis and the Maldives.

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  2. Sea level has been rising at a steady 3.1 mm per year, with no evidence of acceleration.

    At this rate, the islanders will have 100 years before sea level rises a foot.

    1. Actually it looks like the past few years it’s been decelerating and leveling off.

    2. 3.1 mm per year? Doesn’t coral grow faster than that? Maybe they should ask the Dutch for advice on this topic,if there is a profit to be gained from protecting/creating real estate in this type of environment they seem to be the go to engineers for the job.

  3. The most cost effective solution is to handout plane tickets and visas to Sydney. A 100k people shouldn’t be too disruptive.

    1. You missed this bit:

      They need to find employment, not as refugees but as immigrant people with skills to offer, people who have a place in the community, people who will not be seen as second-class citizens.

      [italics added]

      They’ve come a long way since the 195s and the “White Australia Policy” but many Australians still have a hard time accepting Pacific islanders as equals.

      A disproportianate number of those admitted still end up living in effective ghettoes subsisting on government assistance and swelling crime rates.

      1. immigrant people with skills to offer,

        Do they have skills to offer to a modern, First-World economy?

        people who have a place in the community,

        You want to have a place in the community, its helpful to assimilate yourself to the community.

  4. I’m concerned that 100,000 people arriving at once might capsize the place.

  5. I notice the article has no details about the rising sea level. As Torontonian points out, there is no emergency.

    AGW is a bullshit excuse for disfunctional societies to demand money. Bolivia wants a zillion bucks because it’s ski industry is suffereing from a loss of snow? Bullshit. I spent a good bit of time in La Paz and the surrounding area. Skiing is negligible. Their whole economy is base on mining and Coca, which warming should help.

  6. I think it would be wiser to create a fund to start building sea walls. They have time to prepare for rising sea levels.

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  8. Many of Kiribati’s atolls are just a few feet above sea level, so it’s particularly climate sensitive.

    Also, to the fact that coral atolls sink all on their own. This, of course, is a widely observed phenomenon, unlike the rising of sea levels due to desequestration of carbon in certain fuels.

  9. Say what you will about the blog, but Watts Up With That covers this nicely.…..ttle-rain/

    Bottom line: it has nothing to do with sea level and everything to do with rising population on atolls that have very limited fresh water.

  10. The whole thing is a publicity stunt. Kiribati (prounounced kee-ree-bahss, it’s the Gilbertese language version of ‘Gilberts’) is by no means the only inhabited coral atoll, and other places in the general area don’t seem all that worried.
    I’m not aware of atolls sinking on their own–they’re just the tips of volcanic craters, and volcanoes don’t generally get shorter.

    1. Atolls do sink on their own. They are generally the tips of sinking volcanos. You can Google it (“atoll sinking subsiding”)!

      1. Yep, and the coral reef grows upward at a corresponding rate.

        1. The coral in habitable atolls is above sea level and hence not growing at all.

          Coral needs to be submerged to grow.

          1. Then maybe you can explain why Kiribati has been growing over the past 30 years….despite rising sea levels.

            Anyway it it is complex process and yes the above sea level “land” of atolls does rise with rising sea level….and even lowers with falling sea levels.

            This article might help you.


  11. St Kitts and Nevis obscure? You need to get out more.

  12. Since Bananarama apparently took over Fiji, seems global warming has been threatening one cruel cruel summer after another.

  13. They are not moving because of climate change. They are moving because where they live has no soil and very little fresh water as it is an atoll.

  14. Fiji One is NOT the “state-run television network”. “Fiji One” is part of Fiji Television Ltd, owned by private shareholders. FBC-TV is “state-owned”.

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