President Tong has attracted international attention by warning that his country may become uninhabitable by the 2050s due to rising sea levels and salination provoked by climate change. Tong has stated on several occasions that Kiribati may cease to exist altogether, and that it’s entire population of 105,000 may need to be resettled. In June 2008, he stated that Kiribati might already have reached “the point of no return”. He added: “To plan for the day when you no longer have a country is indeed painful but I think we have to do that.”
President Tong has sought possibilities for ultimately relocating the entire population of his country to other countries. His stated plan is for the people of Kiribati to receive job training and then seek skilled jobs in other nation, so that they may become productive members of their host society, and avoid becoming merely environmental refugees. The plan has already begun to be implemented with small groups of nurses going to Australia for training, and agricultural workers to New Zealand and, as of 2010, to Australia. Thus far, however, no country has agreed to relocate substantial numbers of Kiribati people
Trying to convince donors to fund climate projects in Kiribati is one of President Tong’s challenges. According to Tong, if more funding for adaptation (coastal protection) is not forthcoming in the near future, the government will have a big problem on its hands. More and more communities are asking government to assist in relocation rather than protection.
Another challenge is trying to convince his own people that the future of their island nation is in jeopardy. The older generation are generally not too interested in climate change because it really won’t affect them, but the nation’s young people, especially in remote parts of the country, have limited access to information about climate change. This is causing them confusion and anxiety is they are missing out on vital information about environmental change and global warming.