Led the international community to act on climate change
His Excellency Anote Tong, President of Kiribati, actively informed the international community about the climate crisis facing low-lying Pacific small island states due to rising sea levels, and led the international community to actively embark on addressing this issue. Even though immediate assistance and cooperation was needed by the international community to achieve climate peace for the future generations by reducing carbon emissions, and adjusting negative developments that threaten the environment, etc., conflicting interests among countries made for a sluggish show of pace.
Thus, in order to raise international awareness on the climate crisis issue, Pres. Tong invited world delegates to Kiribati and held the Tarawa Climate Change Conference (TCCC) on 12 Nov. 2010 and adopted the Ambo Declaration. This is an 18-point resolution calling upon major economies including China and vulnerable nations to address the causes and adverse impacts of climate change, and urge them to embark upon immediate and concrete action. This agreement between the nations was presented at the larger international climate change summit, the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) COP (Conference of Parties) 16 in Cancun, Mexico, and became the basis for the economically developed countries to support countries such as Kiribati vulnerable to climate change. Furthermore, he played a core role in gathering support so that the major economies and developed countries can both actively cope with climate change.
Led the protection of marine ecosystems by paying a price for the future generations
In order to protect the ocean from pollution caused by human greed and intemperance, Pres. Tong let go of his country’s immediately profitable assets in order to protect the marine ecosystem. He led the world’s largest marine protection and ocean management initiative by area in the ‘Phoenix Islands Protected Area’ designation, and ‘Pacific Oceanscape Network Initiative’, etc., and actively took the lead for the conservation of the Pacific Rim as the resource repository for the future generations and the basis for peace.
Efforts to conserve the Pacific Rim started with first relinquishing his own country’s real profitable assets. In 2006, Pres. Anote Tong worked with CI (Conservation International) and the New England Aquarium to create the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), encompassing some of the most pristine and coral-rich waters on the planet. Upon its full legal establishment in 2008, PIPA expanded to include more than 400,000km² of ocean prohibiting fishing and other exploitations, making it the world’s largest marine protected area at the time. Two years later it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area’s rich biodiversity includes an abundance of healthy corals, big sharks, groupers, tuna, giant clams and other marine animals that have been depleted in much of the rest of the world. The Phoenix Islands is also a major source of revenue for the people of Kiribati with its beautiful environment and rich species of fish. Therefore, prohibiting fishing activities and conserving the area also means that the Kiribati economy has had to endure a substantial blow. Yet despite all this, Pres. Tong passed a law prohibiting all commercial fishing within the Phoenix Islands Protected Area explaining that, “These efforts are a significant contribution to the world community in the hope that they would also act.”
Going further, Pres. Tong conceived the Pacific Oceanscape framework, an unprecedented effort among 23 Pacific island nations to collaboratively and sustainably protect, manage, and sustain nearly 40 million km² of ocean. The Pacific Oceanscape concept was introduced to the Pacific Islands Forum by Kiribati in 2009. The Framework for the cooperative stewardship of their combined ocean territories was presented a year later, receiving unanimous endorsement by the heads of state and governments of 15 participating nations. Together, the nations of the Pacific Oceanscape have responsibility for some 10% of the world’s ocean surface, an area four times the size of the United States.
Committed to ensuring the dignity of human rights for climate refugees
Pres. Tong is devoting a significant amount of his energy into defending the rights of his citizens, and contributed greatly in building awareness among the international community on the protection of human rights for climate refugees.
Pres. Tong is establishing a systematic migration policy so that his country’s citizens, who will be forced to leave Kiribati within the next 30 years due to rising sea levels submerging their country, can migrate with their dignity intact. First, he worked diligently to secure funds to buy land for the resettlement, purchasing 24.28 million m² of land in Fiji, and is running the ‘migration with dignity’ vocational education program so that they will not be treated as unstable ‘refugees’ but as valuable members of the work-force with competitiveness and marketability. Even as hope seemed to diminish as his country’s citizens faced the possibility of losing their homes due to climate change, Pres. Tong’s warm love for humanity shined brightly as he strove to safeguard human dignity, and established various expert vocational training programs such as nursing, seamanship, horticulture gardening, etc. as well as linguistics. These efforts by Pres. Tong contributed to the international community urging for higher cooperation for the human rights of climate refugees and cooperation amongst countries regarding migration.