Soon, a nation of climate refugees may trace their way home to nothing but a screen.
I read some sea science and policy so you don’t have to. Here’s the gist:
As you sow?
Climate change discriminates.
● Sea levels don’t rise uniformly; some countries are at a greater risk. Tuvalu faces rates significantly higher than the global average of 0.15 inches/year.
● It’s not like karma. Despite contributing 0.00002% of global emissions, it is set to be one of the first countries to become uninhabitable.
We have till ~2100, which seems further away than it is.
The problem is Tuvalu is 26 sq/km, home to under 12,000 Christian Polynesians. For perspective, Mumbai could fit 23 Tuvalus and Narendra Modi Stadium could host the population 12x. And this doesn’t help in the global diplomacy marketplace:
● People of colour.
● Small population that poses neither threat nor industrial opportunity.
● Few and limited global exports, so no bargaining power.
Since 2015, Tuvalu and the Alliance of Small Island States have advocated for polluting giants (think UNSC) to compensate smaller nations that face climate impacts they didn’t cause. Eight years on, no prizes for guessing how it’s going.
The $38.9 million Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project – ft. UNDP, the Green Climate Fund, and Australia – is building 0.073 sq/km of land on 3 islands by May 2024, designed to stay above sea level beyond 2100. The long-term vision is 3.6 sq/km of similarly resilient land built across all 9 islands.
Before and after. Photo Source: James Lewis TCAP Coastal Engineer, UNDP
The hope is that this action is timely and sufficient, but it may not be. Natural disasters like cyclones and heavy rains may render the islands uninhabitable regardless of sea levels. In the face of inadequate attention COP after COP, we prepare for the worst…
What of maritime borders?
Tuvalu relies on fishing for subsistence and trade, which means this is a question of the national standard of living.
There’s no clear answer in international law. However, we cling hopefully to the International Law Association’s 2016 recommendation that baselines “should not be required to be recalculated should sea level change affect the geographical locality of the coastline.”
In this best-case scenario, some questions remain:
● How to protect and capitalise on a maritime zone without land?
● Does a landless State get to retain its seat at the UN?
● What is the future of citizenship and passports?
Woefully, Tuvalu may set many precedents for governance in a climate-wrecked world.
To where will the diaspora come home?
If you haven’t visited tuvalu.tv yet, know that it is a solemn experience. On the bottom right, you’ll find a nation sinking into the internet:
Piece by piece, we’ll preserve our country, provide solace to our people, and remind our children and grandchildren what our home once was.– Simon Kofe, Minister of Justice, Communication, and Foreign Affairs, speaking at COP27
Have a Moment?
Tuvalu.tv allows you to ‘Save The Real Tuvalu’ by sending a pre-written plea to your environmental minister. It takes about 10 seconds; for many of us, it’s perhaps the most and least we can do.
And now you know.