The leader of a small but geographically diverse island republic in the Pacific Ocean says his nation is being forced to look at developing artificial islands to keep its population above rising seas.

Anote Tong, the outgoing president of Kiribati, says his nation is running out of time, and will be swallowed by the ocean unless drastic steps are taken – regardless of other countries' best efforts to honour commitments made at the COP 21 conference last year.

"[T]he science continues to indicate that we will continue to go under water within the century," he told the ABC. "So we really have to look at adaptation strategies beyond mitigation, and we will have to build islands."

To help the roughly 100,000-strong nation with this task, Kiribati is in talks with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), home to the largest existing artificial island, Palm Jumeirah – the first of three such land masses envisioned for the country, and constructed from a huge amount of dredged sand and rocks.

"We recently received a technical team from UAE headed by Dutch engineers with the sole objective of providing Kiribati with technical and credible solutions to our predicament," Tong told media at last week's Pacific Climate Change Conference in New Zealand.

"Indeed there is a light at the end of the tunnel. What might have been viewed as something unachievable and impossible may now become the solution not only for Kiribati but all other low-lying atoll islands."

Despite the promise of artificial island structures, the remedy – which Tong estimates could cost as much as US$100 million – in all likelihood won't offer a permanent home for the republic's populace.

"It would be important to bear in mind that it would only be a stop-gap measure that might help Kiribati for another generation or two," New Zealand businessman and speaker at the conference, Rod Oram, said at the Climate Change Conference.

Despite the desperation, the expense, and the outlook, Tong – who leaves office next month but has indicated that he will continue to raise awareness about climate change on behalf of his people – says it's the best option available, with Kiribati losing 7.33 millimetres to rising seas annually.

"If we are really serious about ensuring a secure and safe future for our people, giving up has never been an option," he said.