Isla Public Media KPRG
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Nauru outlines 'ambitious' relocation plan amid climate crisis

A panel of world leaders and political officials sit next to each other on a stage as they discuss ocean and climate affairs.
Our Ocean Conference
Nauru's Climate Change Minister, Asterio Appi (third from left), outlines the Higher Ground Initiative plan at a panel for the 9th Our Ocean Conference held from April 15-17, 2024, in Athens, Greece.

At the 9th Our Ocean Conference (OOC), Asterio Appi, the Republic of Nauru's Climate Change Minister, outlined an ambitious plan to relocate the majority of the nation's population from vulnerable coastal areas to higher ground.

Established by the U.S. government in 2014, the annual OOC convenes world leaders to deliberate on the pressing challenges and solutions impacting maritime territories worldwide.

"Nauru has suffered adverse effects of climate change," Appi remarked during a panel on the conference's second day. "The highest point [of Nauru] is about 60 meters above sea level. The coastal erosion rate is alarming. At the same time, 90 percent of the population lives in the coastal belt."

Yet, rising sea levels are not Nauru's sole concern. A century of phosphate mining, integral to Nauru's economy and culture, was nearly depleted by the 1990s, leaving behind extensive environmental degradation from strip mining that the nation has yet to fully recover.

To bolster its resilience, Appi detailed Nauru's commitment to constructing sea walls around the island, preserving existing infrastructure. It's part of the Higher Ground Initiative (HGI), a nearly five-million-dollar government project launched in 2021 with the aim to implement a "managed retreat to higher ground."

It was initially proposed by the President and Cabinet in 2019, targeting a phased relocation to higher elevations over the next half-century.

In collaboration with international urban planning and design firms, the initiative has rehabilitated previously mined-out lands, now deemed suitable for construction, and "ensure that livelihoods are preserved and moved to safer grounds," Appi explained.

Highlighting the urgency of concrete actions from gatherings like the OOC, Appi concluded that returning home "empty handed [...] speaks volumes of what these meetings actually dictate."

According to Nauru's Department of Climate Change and National Resilience, a draft vision for the relocation plan has been developed. The next steps include the establishment of "a path for implementation" for the HGI project.

Naina Rao serves as Isla Public Media's first News Director. She's extensively produced for National Public Radio's Morning Edition, Culture Desk, and 1A.