Listen to the full interview on the complexity of climate-change induced migration on SoundCloud and Spotify.

BARCELONA — Like many other small island nations, Kiribati has one of the lowest carbon-emission footprints in the world. But, with the highest points of these 33 low-lying atolls rising to just a few meters above sea level, the country is also one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

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“We are seeing a rapid escalation of what is coming,” Anote Tong, Kiribati’s former president 2003-2016, told Devex in an interview at COP 25 in Madrid. During his 13-year presidency, Tong developed the country’s climate change adaptation strategy and has since dedicated himself to raising awareness globally about the threats posed by climate change.

“The IPCC reports say even if we as a global community are able to achieve a reduction in emissions to zero, our islands will continue to be submerged by the rising tides,” Tong said.

Faced with the prospect of his country disappearing into the sea, Tong’s solution was to prepare for the eventual relocation of the population of Kiribati, home to roughly 115,000 people — a solution he calls “migration with dignity.” This led to Kiribati purchasing 5,500 acres of land on Fiji in 2014.

A change of government in Kiribati rolled back Tong’s “migration with dignity” approach, the former president said. But he continues to be active in the global arena, advocating for the need for larger, more polluting countries to take action to limit global emissions.

“It’s about inclusion, it’s about not thinking about yourself … the simple message is, we’re all in this together, and we must try and address it collectively,” he explained.

In the second episode of the Turning the Tide: Climate Champions podcast, Devex spoke to Tong about the sensitivities surrounding climate-change induced migration and the need for the global community to cooperate on solutions to the challenges posed by climate change.

Listen to the full interview on the complexity of climate-change induced migration on SoundCloud and Spotify.

Visit the Turning the Tide series for more coverage on climate change, resilience building, and innovative solutions in small island developing states. You can join the conversation using the hashtag #TurningtheTide.

Explore the series.

About the authors

  • Naomi Mihara

    Naomi Mihara is a Video Journalist for Devex, based in Barcelona. She has a background in journalism and international development, having previously worked as an assistant correspondent for Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper and as a communications officer for the International Organization for Migration in Southeast Asia. She holds a master's degree in multimedia journalism from Bournemouth University.
  • Rebecca Root

    Rebecca Root is a Reporter and Editorial Associate at Devex producing news stories, video, and podcasts as well as partnership content. She has a background in finance, travel, and global development journalism and has written for a variety of publications while living and working in New York, London, and Barcelona.
  • Helen Morgan

    Helen Morgan is an Associate Editor at Devex. She has a background in human rights, radio and journalism, and has written for a variety of international publications while living and working in Buenos Aires, New York and Shanghai. She is now based in Barcelona and supports editorial content on campaigns and media partnerships at Devex. She is currently studying a master's degree in contemporary migration.