seas rise, Pacific island president favors buying land
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[September 22, 2014]
By Alister Doyle
OSLO, Sept 22 (Reuters) -
The president of the Pacific island state of Kiribati
favors buying more land abroad after a purchase in Fiji,
to secure both food supplies and perhaps a future home
if rising sea levels swamp low-lying atolls.
Anote Tong, in Norway on a stopover to view melting Arctic ice
pushing up sea levels before he attends a U.N. climate summit in New
York on Tuesday, said he wanted to lay conditions for "migration
with dignity" from the islands.
Kiribati, a nation of 100,000 people scattered over 32 Pacific
atolls, completed a deal with Fiji this year to buy 6,000 acres
(2,400 hectares) of forest land for A$9.3 million ($8.3 million) on
the island of Vanua Levu, he said.
"With sea level rise, the value of land will go up," Tong predicted
in a weekend interview, nursing a cold from a visit to the Arctic
archipelago of Svalbard. "I am not going to relocate my people, but
someone else might" in coming decades.
"Some people have suggested 'why not (buy more land in) Australia
and New Zealand, they are selling land to the Chinese?'," he said.
"My view is 'yes' ... property poses the least risk" compared to
Tong said Kiribati's A$500 million sovereign wealth fund, built from
earnings from phosphate mines, had suffered from poor financial
investments abroad in recent years.
He said several islands had been abandoned in Kiribati partly
because low-lying farmland was becoming less productive as storm
surges whipped more salt onto the land. "It is contaminating our
food crops," he said.
Crops grown on the higher ground in Fiji could help ensure food
security in Kiribati. But relocation is complex because it raises
issues of residence rights and citizenship.
Tong said that Kiribati had not mentioned relocation to the Fijian
authorities when it bought the land but that Fijian President Epeli
Nailatikau had said "Fiji will welcome you" if it were ever
Separately, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) urged
stronger action by developed nations at the New York summit to cut
emissions of greenhouse gases, blamed by the U.N. panel of experts
for stoking heat waves, floods and rising seas.
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"The time for action was yesterday," Robert Watson, a former chair
of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and
lead author of an AOSIS report outlining needed actions, told
Reuters. "We are losing the battle."
Among AOSIS' recommendations are a ban on building new conventional
coal-fired power plants and for governments to set a price on carbon
to penalize emissions.
The IPCC says it is at least 95 percent probable that man-made
emissions are the main cause of global warming since 1950. Despite
the scientific consensus, opinion polls indicate many voters suspect
natural variations in the climate are to blame.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joined a march for climate action
in New York on Sunday that organizers estimated at 310,000 people,
the biggest rally ever held on the issue.
(Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Tom Heneghan)
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