Making waves

A tide in the affairs of Kiribati

LOUNGING under a thatch-roofed pavilion in the village of Abaokoro, a retired seaman, Tiree Tepenea, points at the turquoise lagoon that stops a few steps from his door. Flooding from the sea has become more common during his lifetime, he says, and dramatically eroded the coastline. Seawalls built with manual labour are of limited use against the restless tides. “Maybe in a few years the floods will cover this island,” Mr Tepenea says of Tarawa, one of Kiribati’s 33 wafer-thin islands and atolls. The country’s people “are just waiting for the problems that may come” as the climate changes.
Kiribati (pronounced “kiribass” and derived from the British colonial name for the islands, the Gilberts) is not close to much. Its total land area, about a third of tiny Luxembourg’s, is home to just 111,000 people. Yet in diplomatic terms it punches above its weight because many of its atolls, rising just 2 metres (6.6 feet) above sea level, could someday be consumed by rising waters. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts a mean global rise in sea levels of up to nearly a metre by...

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