The central Pacific nation of Kiribati is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. Sea level rise is threatening the lives of 105,000 people spread over 33 atolls in this remote corner of the Pacific. It's the same ocean, which for generations has sustained the country that is now the source of its destruction.
On the frontline of climate change, one woman's mission to save her sinking Pacific homeland.
Maria Tiimon, originally from Kiribati, now lives in Sydney, where she works for an NGO raising awareness of climate change issues in the Pacific. Her spiritual home however is the small Kiribati atoll of Beru. This is where her father lives, a proud village elder, whom Maria idolises.
Maria travels as part of her NGO delegation to the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. Over the course of the week, low-lying Island States led by Kiribati’s smaller neighbour Tuvalu, push for a new legally binding treaty. The treaty requires all nations – not only the west, but also the emerging economies of India and China - to agree on carbon emission reductions to keep global temperature from rising above 1.5C. However evidence emerges of pressure applied by Australian officials on the Pacific nations to withdraw their bid, which ends up scuttled.
Back in Kiribati, stormy weather has caused major damage. Part of a seawall protecting an entire community has been swept away. This is the village of Tebikenikoora. Every peak high tide the village is flooded with seawater. Houses have been shifted, vegetable gardens and fruit trees ruined. President Anote Tong is acutely aware of these problems, but his government doesn’t have the resources to fix them.
As months go by, funds pledged at Copenhagen to assist poorer and vulnerable countries to adapt to climate change haven’t materialised. Seawalls are still crumbling and whole villages are demanding that the government move them.
Maria accompanies a delegation to Kiribati led by Australian indigenous leader Pat Dodson. Dodson meets the President who admits he doesn’t know what to tell his people anymore. It seems now that relocation is the only option. “We have to assume the worst”, Tong tells the delegation.
Suddenly Maria’s personal life interrupts her advocacy work. She finds out her father is very sick so she must leave for Kiribati immediately. However there is a bright cloud on the horizon: Maria has been developing a relationship via the internet with Chif-ang, a young policeman who she met a year earlier in Tarawa. Following tradition Maria takes him to Beru to meet her father.
Before long, Maria’s work takes her to Germany and then to Cancun for the next Climate Change Conference. Maria’s presentations show how she has developed a great deal of poise and confidence in the 12 months since she addressed groups of school kids back in Sydney.
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