The low-lying islands of Kiribati, just a few feet above sea level, are on the front lines of climate change. Globally, sea levels have risen eight to 10 inches since 1880, but several studies show that trend accelerating. If carbon emissions continue unchecked, a recent survey of experts concluded, sea levels may rise about three feet by 2100.
That could inundate most of Kiribati by the end of the century, and the islands, home to some 100,000 people, are already feeling the impact. The government of Kiribati says the intrusion of salt water caused by rising sea levels has contaminated fresh water supplies and crop soil, and President Anote Tong has predicted that his country will become uninhabitable in 30 to 60 years. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, all the residents of Kiribati, along with other low-lying island states such as the Maldives and Tuvalu, could be forced to flee as a result of climate change. “Entire populations could thus become stateless,” the agency wrote.