Mr Tong is visiting New Zealand to promote a film called Anote's Ark which portrays the frightening climate change reality that his people face.
He said even if the most ambitious targets for reducing global carbon emissions are met Kiribati and other islands like Tuvalu and Tokelau could still be swamped by the sea.
"That is the science and so cutting emissions does not address our problems. Our focus must be on adaptation because adaptation has got to be the way forward for us. Because if we cannot adapt to what is happening, we have no choice but to relocate," Anote Tong said.
"We cannot just wish that it would not happen. We cannot ask God to stop it. We have got to be brutally pragmatic about this."
The film Anote's Ark is showing at the Documentary Edge festival in Auckland and Wellington.