King tide pummels Kiribati

Feature story - February 9, 2005
Less than a week before the Kyoto Protocol enters into force, the tiny island nation of Kiribati is ravished by a 'king tide' -- an example of the kind of sea-level rise we can expect to see more of as global temperatures increase.

Young girl watches sea sweep into her family's land.

Thousands of people living on the low-lying atoll of Kiribati (pronounced keer-ree-bahss) in the central Pacific were hit by waves that reached 2.87 metres (9 and a half feet) today. Farmland was swept out to sea and fresh water wells contaminated. Betio Hospital in the south of the island was flooded when waves breached sea defence walls.

"Just a week before the Kyoto Protocol enters into force, this serves as a stark reminder that climate change is upon us and governments must go way beyond the emissions cuts outlined in the treaty," said our climate campaigner, Stephanie Tunmore.

The 33 coral atolls that make up Kiribati are strung across two million square miles of the Pacific. They are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by greenhouse gases warming the oceans.

As the seas continue to rise, the 92,000 people who live there could be forced to emigrate, together with tens of millions of other people in low-lying island and coastal communities around the globe.

The pollution which causes global warming has reached dangerous levels and scientists have warned that low-lying islands face permanent inundation from rising seas. To save coastal communities and islands like Kiribati, governments must act to penalise polluters and invest heavily in clean energy sources in order to reduce emissions.