BAR HARBOR — His Excellency Anote Tong, the fourth president of the Republic of Kiribati, is keynote speaker at College of the Atlantic’s 45th Commencement at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 9.
President Tong, who led Kiribati (pronounced Ki-ri-bas) from 2003 to 2016, has become one of the strongest voices championing the fight against climate change, especially from the developing world and those nations most affected by rising sea levels.
“Nothing says climate change is real and is now more than an entire island nation being swallowed by rising sea levels. Kiribati is that very place,” said COA President Darron Collins ’92. “Facing that existential question, President Anote Tong has worked tirelessly to galvanize awareness worldwide of the plight of his nation and the real threats that we all face from a changing climate.”
Tong, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, has warned many times that rising sea levels may cause Kiribati to cease to exist, and that its entire population may need to be resettled. In an effort to allow the Micronesian island nation’s citizens to migrate with dignity and not as climate change refugees, Tong in 2014 oversaw the purchase of 6,000 acres of land on neighboring Fiji as a potential new home for the approximately 115,000 residents of Kiribati.
“We have to reconcile ourselves to the brutal reality that some of our people may have to be relocated,” Tong told CNBC in March.
Kiribati, located off the northeast coast of Australia, is comprised of 33 coral atolls. Most islands are just over a mile wide, with an average height of six feet above sea level, making the nation especially susceptible to rising sea levels. Other remote Pacific island nations face similar threats.
In addition to his work on climate change, President Tong also led other Micronesian island nation presidents toward the establishment of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, which, at 157,000 square miles, is one of the largest marine protected areas in the world.
Tong will receive an honorary Master of Philosophy degree in human ecology at the COA commencement ceremony. Also receiving honorary degrees will be Honorary Consul to the Republic of Kiribati Christine Zinnemann and Cindy Wiesner, the National Coordinator of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance and the co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance and the Our Power Campaign.
College of the Atlantic is the first college in the United States to focus on the relationship between humans and the environment. The intentionally small school of 350 students and 35 faculty members offers a Bachelor of Arts degree in human ecology — the study of how humans interact with our natural, social and technological environments. Each student develops their own course of study in human ecology, collaborating and innovating across multiple disciplines. Both The Sierra Club and The Princeton Review named College of the Atlantic the #1 Green College in the United States in 2016 and 2017. Learn more at coa.edu.