Why island nations’ isolation on the climate change threat must end

South Tarawa, Kiribati by Robert Szymanski. Sourced via Shutterstock. Stock photo ID: 455162137.
Wednesday 24 October 2018
6.00 - 7.30PM

This event has passed


CPC Auditorium
Charles Perkins Centre Hub
University of Sydney



In association with Pacific Calling Partnership and Sydney Ideas

The people of the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati are already experiencing climate change through their exposure to sea-level rise, coastal erosion, and flooding, which have adverse effects on groundwater supply, sanitation, biodiversity and food production. Due to its small size, low lying topography, and economic marginalisation, Kiribati is extremely vulnerable to climate change, and if they are unable to adjust to climate change, the people of Kiribati face significant challenges.

Despite climate change already causing severe problems for Kiribati, large adaptive measures have barely begun. This is both an environmental and human rights issue, as those who have not been the cause of climate change are forced to cope with the consequences, and often do so without the support of industrialised nations.

This Sydney Ideas event will explore the challenges faced by the people of Kiribati and other vulnerable Pacific Island nations and examine how climate change will exacerbate these issues. The questions that will be explored are: What impact will climate change have on Kiribati’s islands, identity, culture and heritage? How can co-operation between nations in the region be strengthened?  What political and legislative actions can be taken in Australia to assist Pacific Island nations in climate change adaptation?

Join us to hear from Anote Tong, former president of Kiribati, and one of the world’s most prominent advocates for global action on climate change for which he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Tong will discuss his climate change advocacy, the role of wealthy industrialised nations such as Australia in climate action and the need for global recognition of the threat that climate change represents for Kiribati and other vulnerable Pacific Island nations.

Keynote Speaker

Anote Tong, former president of Kiribati and climate change activist


Professor Rosemary Lyster, University of Sydney Law School

Dr Jennifer Newell, Manager, Pacific and International Collections at the Australian Museum


Professor David Schlosberg, Sydney Environment Institute


Anote Tong is the former president of Kiribati, and one of the world’s most prominent advocates for global action on climate change. He has played a critical role in the United Nations conferences on climate change, especially at COP 21 in Paris. With other Pacific leaders, he played a leading role in changing the Paris climate accord to fix a target of global warming to 1.5 deg. C, arguing that any target greater than that would mean abandoning hope for the low lying atoll nations of the world such as his home of Kiribati. For his courageous international advocacy and awareness-raising, Anote Tong has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. More than most he has brought to the world’s attention the existential threat climate change represents to global security.

Anote Tong is responsible for a range of international initiatives to combat climate change and protect the environment, including the Tarawa Climate Change Conference in November 2010 and the Ambo Declaration, where he oversaw the creation of a 480,250 square kilometre marine park, the largest protected marine area in the world – which was later adopted as a UNESCOWorld Heritage List site (Phoenix Islands Protected Area, or PIPA). Since leaving office Anote Tong has continued his high-level advocacy on behalf of the Pacific islands, and low-level island nations. Through his efforts, climate change has had resonance throughout the world. Most recently a documentary film about him, called Anote’s Ark, has gained many accolades and awards and was a feature documentary at the Sundance Film Festival in the US in 2018.

Rosemary Lyster is the Professor of Climate and Environmental Law at the University of Sydney Law School and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law. Rosemary’s special area of research expertise is Climate Justice and Disaster Law. She has published two books and numerous other publications in this area. Her books are Rosemary Lyster and Robert M. Verchick (eds.) Climate Disaster Law (Edward Elgar: 2018) and Rosemary Lyster Climate Justice and Disaster Law (Cambridge University Press: 2016). Rosemary has been selected by the Australian Financial Review as one of the 2018 ‘100 Women of Influence’ in the Public Policy category.In 2015, Rosemary was appointed by the Victorian government to a three person Independent Review Committee (IRC) to review the state’s Climate Change Act 2010 and make recommendations to place Victoria as a leader on climate change. The government accepted 32 of the IRC’s 33 Recommendations which were included in the new Climate Change Act 2017. In 2013, Rosemary was appointed a Herbert Smith Freehills Visiting Professor at Cambridge Law School and was a Visiting Scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge in 2009 and in 2014. In other areas of Environmental Law, Rosemary specialises in Energy and Climate Law and Water Law.

Jennifer Newell has been exploring Pacific history and culture for over 20 years, and is Manager of the Pacific and International Collection at the Australian Museum. Jenny has worked in museums and with Pacific communities in London, New York and Australia. Her research focus has been on relationships between Pacific people, environments and material culture. Her particular focus is on the cultural dimensions of climate change, including Pacific Islander activism and changing relationships to the ocean.

David Schlosberg is Professor of Environmental Politics in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney, and Co-Director of the Sydney Environment Institute. His work focuses on contemporary environmental and environmental justice movements, environment and everyday life, and climate adaptation planning and policy. He is the author of Defining Environmental Justice (Oxford, 2007); co-author of Climate-Challenged Society (Oxford, 2013); and co-editor of both The Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society (Oxford 2011), and The Oxford Handbook of Environmental Political Theory (Oxford 2016). His current book project is on sustainable materialism, or the environmentalism of everyday life.