Nov 072011
Members of Pacific Islands Forum

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Tuvalu, Tonga, the Maldives, the Cook and the Solomon Islands are all losing the battle against the rising seas

Artificial islands sounds like a science fiction storyline, yet for the Pacific state of Kiribati it could be the social innovation solution to the rising sea levels that are engulfing the island. In a speech to the 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum this last week, President Anote Tong said that radical action is required and that he was looking at a $2 billion dollar plan that involved “structures resembling oil rigs” which could be a new type of island for Kiribati’s 100,000 population.

Kiribati is not alone. Tuvalu, Tonga, the Maldives, the Cook and the Solomon Islands are all losing the battle against the rising seas and are finding it difficult to pay for sea defences. Kiribati faces an immediate bill of over $900 million dollars just to protect itself. President Anote Tong says, “The last time I saw the models, I was like ‘wow it’s…almost like something in space.’ So modern, I don’t know if our people could live on it. But what would you do for your grandchildren? If you’re faced with the option of being submerged, with your family, would you jump on an oil rig like that? And I think the answer is ‘yes’. We are running out of options, so we are considering all of them.”

Sea levels are predicted to rise twice as fast as was forecast by the United Nations four years ago, threatening hundreds of millions of people with catastrophe. Rapidly melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are likely to push up sea levels by a metre or more by 2100, swamping coastal cities and obliterating the living space of 600 million people who live in deltas, low-lying areas and small island states. Low-lying countries with increasing populations, such as Bangladesh and Egypt, could see large parts of their surface areas vanish. This includes the Pacific islands who are now looking to social innovation to save themselves.

The Pacific’s 22 countries and territories are strung out across 29 million square kilometres of ocean. They contain some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Jos Manuel Duro Barroso, President of the European Commission, The EU and the Pacific, said at the Pacific Islands Forum, “Most countries in this region are the least responsible for global warming and they are the lowest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world, but the first to suffer its consequences”.

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