For many of us, climate change means higher power bills. For Kateia Kaikai it means her island home is being swallowed by the sea.
Ms Kaikai is from the low-lying Pacific island nation of Kiribati, expected to be the first country to disappear under rising sea levels due to global climate change.
Kateia Kaikai and Maria Tiimon. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI
Along with her countrywoman Maria Tiimon, Ms Kaikai yesterday addressed a workshop on climate change at the University of Wollongong.
Earlier, she enjoyed a trip to North Wollongong Beach where she delighted in milder conditions than back home.
“When I was young I used to collect shells on the beach; when I last went home there was no shells on the beach and the coconut trees were dying. There was not even any people on the beach due to the heat,” she said.
“We used to enjoy temperatures of around 33 degrees in the middle of the day – now the heat is stifling at 35 to 40 degrees.”
Rising sea levels have forced many islanders to relocate but the options are dwindling. The Kiribati government has started negotiating to buy land in Fiji so it may one day relocate its entire population of about 100,000.
“Many have been forced off their land and have gone to other parts of the island to live with family,” Ms Kaikai said.
“Those people who still live along the coast have to grow vegetables in pots as the groundwater has become too salty for vegetable gardens.
“We used to have a well but we can’t use it any more for drinking or for washing our clothes as the water is too salty.”
UOW media studies lecturer Dr Tanja Dreher said the carbon tax was the only experience many Australians had had with climate change, so the women had been invited to the workshop to share their stories.
“Some of our nearest neighbours are experiencing the impact of climate change right now,” Dr Dreher said. “They are having to radically rethink their entire way of living in this generation – while the coming generation may have to leave.”
Ms Kaikai represents the Pacific Calling Partnership, part of the Edmund Rice Centre, a Sydney-based Catholic advocacy group.
Australia has been condemned for not offering enough aid to these nations.
“Our nation is not passive – we are taking action including building large sea walls and causeways,” Ms Kaikai said.
“But we need aid to help fund these projects.
“And we also need people in developed countries to make changes to help reduce the greenhouse gases causing climate change,” she said.
“Relocation is our last resort but we still have hope that if everyone takes some action, there’s a chance for us.”
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