Tuvalu, a small island state in the Pacific, is facing disaster due to rising sea levels. The island nation’s special envoy told DW there could be “total inundation” of the island within the century.
The low-lying Pacific island nation of Tuvalu is among the world’s most vulnerable countries when it comes to the impacts of climate change, especially rising sea levels.
A senior delegation headed by special envoy Samuelu Laloniu is visiting Geneva, Copenhagen, Paris and Berlin, to meet with senior government officials, UN representatives and civil society, and discuss the urgent need for climate action.
The top envoy said his home is facing the threat of completely disappearing.
“We are grappling with the questions of statelessness, sovereignty, the risk of losing our way of life, our rights. I think there’s a need for people to understand the human aspects, the human face of the climate crisis,” Laloniu told DW’s Leonie von Hammerstein.
Fears of inundation within the century
Pacific islands face some of the starkest and most immediate risks related to climate change. According to the US Geological Survey, many Pacific islands have a maximum elevation of 3-5 meters.
A 2012 US National Climate Assessment gave global sea level rise scenarios which ranged from 0.2 meters to 2.0 meters by 2100, putting islands like Tuvalu firmly at risk.
“As atoll nations, time is not on our side — Total inundation within the century. And if we are serious about sea level rise, we have to address the problem at the source,” Laloniu said, stressing, “fossil fuel is the greatest source of the climate crisis and sea level rise.”
Laloniu said one of the immediate consequences of the threats facing islanders was that people were ultimately making the decision to leave.
“People are migrating. It’s a private decision, it’s not a policy of the government to even consider relocation. But clearly there are people migrating for various reasons — looking for education for their children. But certainly there are people migrating because they lost land due to coastal erosion. And in general, the uncertainty because of the impacts of climate change.”
The government of Tuvalu was helping people improve their skills so that they could seek opportunities elsewhere.
Reclaiming land ‘only viable option’
Land reclamation is one of the strategies the island nation is using to deal with rising sea levels.
“Our priority now is to build resilience and enhance our capacity to adapt,” Laloniu said. He also highlighted the work being done to reclaim the coastal area as part of a Green Climate Fund Project.
“That project will add about 10% of the existing habitable land area,” Laloniu said adding that in his opinion it was the only “viable option” remain on the island.
“There are some other options we are taking in terms of resilience, but the most important now is where we can raise the land and reclaim it,” Laloniu said.
The envoy said the international community needed to know that the islands Tuvalu face the very real possibility of losing territory and highlighted the role Germany plays in climate talks.
“You have to talk to people who can make a difference. And Germany is certainly an important partner in this. And with the assistance we can get from Germany… it would be something for others to follow,” Laloniu said.
Another key issue that the delegation is seeking to address is securing an agreement on permanent maritime borders regardless of whether there were changes to sea level.
“We have made our case clear, not only Tuvalu, but as a region, where we would rather have permanent baselines, maritime baselines, regardless of sea level rise. So those are discussions in the international legal forums, including the UN. We have asked our development partners, our friends, like Germany, to help us in the discussion.”
Laloniu said a concrete demand the island is making is that countries keep to the 1.5 target according to the Paris Agreement which seeks to limit Earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.