The Pacific island nation Kiribati has found itself at the epicenter of the global climate change debate, as it is one of the first places that will be destroyed if sea levels rise as predicted through this century. Kiribati leaders are currently mulling a major decision to purchase 6,000 acres of land on Fiji’s main island for $9.6 million as insurance against a submerged future. If necessary, they could move their entire permanent population of just over 100,000 onto the land in Fiji. The nation is composed of 32 atolls, like the one shown above, and one coral island spread amidst 1,351,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean, some of which have already been affected by salinated soil and drinking water due to water level changes.

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Kiribati President Anote Tong told the Associate Press about the plan, explaining that his cabinet had just endorsed the decision. Tong expressed hope that it would never become necessary to move the entire population of Kiribati, but explained that considering the global circumstances they had to think towards the future.

“We would hope not to put everyone on one piece of land, but if it became absolutely necessary, yes, we could do it,” Tong told AP. “It wouldn’t be for me, personally, but would apply more to a younger generation. For them, moving won’t be a matter of choice. It’s basically going to be a matter of survival.” Kiribati is located near the international dateline and has islands on both sides of the equator. Tong said that though ocean levels had only risen slightly so far, the threat of increasing storms and changing tidal patterns had just as much effect on the livelihood of his country’s population.

Kiribati is an independent island nation that became independent from Great Britain in 1979. The country is at the forefront of the climate change debate not due to its own actions, but due to the rest of the world’s. “We’re trying to secure the future of our people,” Tong told the AP. “The international community needs to be addressing this problem more.”

Via USA Today

Photos by Luigi G, Rafael Ávila Coya and and Brad Hinton on Flickr