What would you do if there was a strong possibility your entire country might disappear in a matter of decades? If you’re the island nation of Kiribati, you invest in a backup plan. In this case, Kiribati bought 7.7 square miles of land in neighboring Fiji.
Earlier this year, the government of Kiribati bought a heavily forested area on the island of Vanua Levu from the Church of England for $8.77 million.The land will hopefully be enough to fit the republic's 100,000 people after global sea level rise drowns Kiribati's 33 small islands.
But just because there is a backup plan doesn’t mean that everyone is happy about the need for it. Claire Anterea, a social worker from Kiribati expressed her frustration about the results of recent climate change studies to Motherboard in May:
“My gosh this is not fair! If the world can’t stop the glacier collapse who will save my people and my country?”
“We have a beautiful life here,” she said, “a simple and subsistence way of living. It is unexplainable to know that our beloved home will disappear.”
Vanua Levu is the second largest island in Fiji, and used to be a colonial outpost called Sandalwood Island. Kiribati began negotiations for the land two years ago. Now that the money has changed hands, the plan is to move the population over to the new land gradually over several years, with skilled workers traveling there first, getting jobs and integrating into the Fijian culture. In the meantime the freed up land will be used for agriculture to feed the population of Kiribati, whose livelihoods have been threatened by coral bleaching and sea level rise.
Other low-lying countries including the Maldives and Tuvalu have also been thinking about the future, focusing on other options including relocating, purchasing land or building structures that would stand above sea level. Even Fiji is looking to relocate some of their coastal habitations further inland as the waters rise.
Kiribati is the first to take the step of actually procuring a backup plan, but others will surely follow.