scene of kiribati landscape

Why island nations' isolation on the climate change threat must end

Climate change is a serious problem for Pacific Island nations, who often battle flooding, coastal erosion and rising sea levels on their own. How can industrialised nations like Australia assist them?

The people of the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati are already experiencing climate change through their exposure to rising sea levels, coastal erosion and flooding, which have adverse effects on groundwater supply, sanitation, biodiversity and food production. Due to its small size, low-lying topography, and economic marginalisation, Kiribati is extremely vulnerable to climate change, and if its people are unable to adjust to climate change, they face significant challenges.

Despite climate change already causing severe problems, large adaptive measures have barely begun. This is both an environmental and human rights issue, as people who have not caused climate change are forced to cope with the consequences, and often without the support of industrialised nations.

Our speakers at this event will explore the challenges faced by the people of Kiribati and other vulnerable Pacific Island nations and examine how climate change will exacerbate these issues. The questions that will be explored are: What impact will climate change have on Kiribati’s islands, identity, culture and heritage? How can cooperation between nations in the region be strengthened? What political and legislative actions can be taken in Australia to assist Pacific Island nations in climate change adaptation?

Join us and hear from Anote Tong, former president of Kiribati, one of the world’s most prominent advocates for global action on climate change and a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. Tong will discuss his climate change advocacy, the role of wealthy industrialised nations such as Australia in climate action and the need for global recognition of the threat that climate change presents for Kiribati and other vulnerable Pacific Island nations.

This event was held at the University of Sydney on Wednesday 24 October 2018.


  • Keynote speaker: Anote Tong is a former president of Kiribati, and one of the world’s most prominent advocates for global action on climate change. He has played a critical role in the United Nations conferences on climate change, especially at COP 21 in Paris. He is responsible for a range of international initiatives to combat climate change and protect the environment and through his efforts climate change has resonated throughout the world. Most recently a documentary film about him – Anote’s Ark – has gained many accolades and featured at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018.
  • Professor Rosemary Lyster is the Professor of Climate and Environmental Law in the University of Sydney Law School. In 2015 Rosemary was appointed by the Victorian Government to a three-person Independent Review Committee (IRC) to review the state's Climate Change Act 2010 and make recommendations to place Victoria as a leader on climate change. The government accepted 32 of the IRC's 33 Recommendations. In the area of environmental law, Rosemary specialises in energy and climate law, climate disaster law and water law.
  • Dr Jennifer Newell is Manager of the East Pacific Collections at the Australian Museum. She has been exploring Pacific history and culture for over 20 years, and is Manager of the Pacific and International Collection at the Australian Museum. Jenny has worked in museums and with Pacific communities in London, New York and Australia. Her research focus has been on relationships between Pacific people, environments and material culture. Her particular focus is on the cultural dimensions of climate change, including Pacific Islander activism and changing relationships to the ocean.
  • Chair: David Schlosberg is Professor of Environmental Politics in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney, and Co-Director of the Sydney Environment Institute. His work focuses on contemporary environmental and environmental justice movements, environment and everyday life, and climate adaptation planning and policy. He is the author of Defining Environmental Justice; co-author of Climate-Challenged Society; and co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society and The Oxford Handbook of Environmental Political Theory


Image: South Tarawa, Kiribati by Robert Szymanski. Sourced via Shutterstock. Stock photo ID: 455162137.

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