Former President of Kiribati puts the island nation on the map in the fight against climate change

By Rebecca West

Although educated in the U.K., former President of Kiribati Anote Tong’s passions never strayed far from home. When he served three terms as President of the small South-Pacific nation of Kiribati from 2003 to 2016, he became known as a “climate warrior” and put his country at the forefront of the international climate change debate.

As rising sea levels threaten to sink this low-lying country, former President Tong did everything in his power to provide options for survival for the Kiribati people. He bought land in Fiji as a possible refuge. He worked closely with neighbouring New Zealand, signing a Joint Commitment for Development in 2014, outlining aid in fisheries, transport, energy, and improving the health of citizens of Kiribati.

New Zealand also provides work opportunities for Kiribati residents, primarily in the seasonal wine and agriculture industries. In the documentary Anote’s Ark, we meet Sermary, a citizen of Kiribati forced to relocate to New Zealand due to rising sea levels at home.

Like all politicians, Tong has critics, who suggest that some of his more radical schemes, like building a huge floating island to house Kiribati residents, were simply “attention-grabbing notions designed to stir debate on a difficult topic.” He was also criticized for spending too much time lobbying world leaders like President Obama or the Pope, rather than focusing on domestic issues like the economy or health of Kiribatiès citizens. 

Despite his naysayers, former President Tong has succeeded in gaining international recognition and attention for his environmental activism.

He has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize twice, won the Sunhak Peace Prize and 2012, and is the recently announced recipient of Mount Royal University’s 2019 Calgary Peace Prize.

In a recent interview with the Calgary Star, Tong emphasizes our ongoing and personal obligation to fight climate change, no matter where we live: “Climate Change is a global challenge which demands a contribution from every citizen of this planet.” He believes that anyone with the capacity to work against climate change is obliged to do so, including Canadians.

Watch Anote's Ark.

Produced with additional funding from: