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SYNOPSIS

The central Pacific nation of Kiribati is one of the countries in the world most vulnerable to climate change.  Sea level rise and increasing salinity are 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.

Maria Tiimon, originally from Kiribati, now lives in Sydney, where she works for an NGO raising awareness of climate change issues in the Pacific to schools and community groups.  Her spiritual home however is the small Kiribati atoll of Beru.  This is where her father lives, a proud village elder, whom Maria idolizes.

The family relies a lot on Maria to help them out financially, as does her brother and his 8 kids living on the overcrowded main atoll of Tarawa.  Maria has to balance these many pressures with her important work of taking her sinking nation’s message to the world.

Maria travels to the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference (COP15) as a member of an NGO delegation. In a dramatic 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 and it ends up being scuttled.

Meanwhile back in Kiribati stormy weather has caused major damage.  Part of a seawall protecting an entire community has been swept away.   The President, the urbane Anote Tong, is acutely aware of these problems, but his government doesn’t have the resources to fix them.  Relocation, he believes, is inevitable.  He doesn’t want his people to become climate change refugees, but people who  move ‘with dignity’.   Tong wants his young people to go overseas, learn new skills and put down roots – in preparation for a mass migration.   As it so happens, the first guest workers have just arrived in Australia and Maria has the task of monitoring their progress.  Although they earn 3 times what their President earns back in Kiribati, life is not as rosy as it first appears.  They are isolated and cut off from the local community.

Suddenly, Maria personal life interrupts her

The central Pacific nation of Kiribati is one of the countries in the world most vulnerable to climate change.  Sea level rise and increasing salinity are 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.

Maria Tiimon, originally from Kiribati, now lives in Sydney, where she works for an NGO raising awareness of climate change issues in the Pacific to schools and community groups.  Her spiritual home however is the small Kiribati atoll of Beru.  This is where her father lives, a proud village elder, whom Maria idolizes.

The family relies a lot on Maria to help them out financially, as does her brother and his 8 kids living on the overcrowded main atoll of Tarawa.  Maria has to balance these many pressures with her important work of taking her sinking nation’s message to the world.

Maria travels to the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference (COP15) as a member of an NGO delegation. In a dramatic 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 and it ends up being scuttled.

Meanwhile back in Kiribati stormy weather has caused major damage.  Part of a seawall protecting an entire community has been swept away.   The President, the urbane Anote Tong, is acutely aware of these problems, but his government doesn’t have the resources to fix them.  Relocation, he believes, is inevitable.  He doesn’t want his people to become climate change refugees, but people who  move ‘with dignity’.   Tong wants his young people to go overseas, learn new skills and put down roots – in preparation for a mass migration.   As it so happens, the first guest workers have just arrived in Australia and Maria has the task of monitoring their progress.  Although they earn 3 times what their President earns back in Kiribati, life is not as rosy as it first appears.  They are isolated and cut off from the local community.

Suddenly, Maria 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 ‘s been developing a relationship via the Internet with Chif-ang, a young policeman whom she met a year earlier in Tarawa.  Following tradition Maria takes him to Beru to meet her father. Before long, her work takes her to Germany and then to Cancun for the next Climate Change Conference. (COP16).  Maria’s presentations show that she’s developed a lot of poise and confidence in the 12 months since she addressed groups of school kids back in Sydney.

While Maria’s life unfolds, the situation in Kiribati slowly deteriorates.  Funds pledged at Copenhagen to assist poorer and vulnerable countries to adapt to climate change haven’t materialized.  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.

The latest prognosis for climate change appears grim.  Pledges made by industrialized countries at the Copenhagen and Cancun Climate Change Conferences to cut carbon emissions have fallen far short of their targets.  Scientists currently predict temperature increases of between 3 and 6 degrees, and sea level rises of well over a metre, by the turn of the century. Only decisive global action will save Kiribati and its culture from disappearing.

 

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