By Evan Wasuka Agence France-Presse First Posted 13:43:00 12/10/2009
COPENHAGEN, Denmark—The remote Pacific nation of Kiribati has appealed to rich nations to give training and jobs to its people, fearing its very existence is at risk if the low-lying atolls are swamped by rising seas.
Foreign Secretary Tessie Eria Lambourne said Kiribati, whose islands lie just two meters (about six feet) above sea-level on average, was in imminent danger from global warming.
She proposed expanding a scheme already in place in Australia and New Zealand, where people from Kiribati are trained as nurses and given the option to work and settle there.
"A relocation scheme based on merit and with dignity... to train our people to your standards to fill your labor gaps," Lambourne told an event on the sidelines of the UN climate talks in Copenhagen.
Kiribati groups 33 coral atolls southwest of Hawaii, straddling the equator and spread over an ocean area the size of the continental United States.
Despite its vast geographical spread, Kiribati has a population of only about 100,000, one of the world's smallest.
The government is hoping to establish small Kiribati communities around the world in case its islands are deluged by seawater as a result of global warming.
"If Australia and New Zealand (do it), why can't other developed countries do it too?" said Betarim Rimon, secretary to President Anote Tong.
With its very existence in the balance, Kiribati is urging world leaders to take aggressive action in reducing emissions, calling for carbon pollution below 350 parts per million and global warming below 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit).
Tong, in a video address to Copenhagen conference participants, called on world leaders to take decisive action on what he described as the greatest moral challenge of the 21st century.
"This is a human issue not an environmental issue as far as our people are concerned," he said, claiming that rising seas were already affecting drinking water and threatening homes.
He said Kiribati, despite producing only minimal greenhouse gases, has vowed to cut its pollution through green technology.
It has also established the California-sized Phoenix Island marine protection area—the largest in the world—which can be used to study the impacts of climate change. "This is our gift to humanity," Tong said.
Lambourne urged bigger countries to take the lead at the Copenhagen talks, which have become mired in in-fighting in their opening days.
"Our people will be the first to go if nothing happens here in Copenhagen," she said. "If your whole country is a coastal area, where do you move to?"