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Tuvalu can’t wait for the world to get its act together on climate change

Introduction by Croakey: Tuvalu is on the frontline of the climate crisis and, like other Pacific Island nations, receives periodic international attention during climate change debates and conferences.

Tuvalu government minister Simon Kofe recently presented his country’s call to action to the United Nations climate change conference, COP26, by standing in water that was once land, as reported by Croakey.

In the article below Simon Kofe, Minister for Justice, Communication and Foreign Affairs, explains how Tuvalu is tired of waiting for action on climate change and is now pushing to secure international recognition of its Statehood and maritime boundaries as fixed and permanent, despite the loss of land from rising sea levels.


Simon Kofe writes:

When the COP comes around every year, Pacific Island nations – many of which are small in landmass and low-lying – tend to get more attention than usual. Countries like my home of Tuvalu are directly tied to climate change in the public imagination because we are experiencing the most dire effects of the climate crisis as we speak.

A fortnight ago I chose to release a video statement for COP26 from Funafuti, the capital of Tuvalu. I gave the statement knee-deep in water in a spot that used to be on land not 70 years ago. Needless to say, images and videos of the statement have attracted a lot of attention. But it’s the message and intent of the statement that are really critical.

In my statement I underscored that Tuvalu will always work with our international partners to mitigate the impacts of climate change, reach global net zero by mid-century, and mobilise urgently needed climate finance for those most affected by the climate crisis.

However, I also emphasised that in the face of rapidly rising sea levels and land erosion, Tuvalu is not going to wait for the world to get its act together. Tuvalu is acting now to secure our future against a worst-case scenario – a scenario where we lose our land to the sea.

One innovative approach we are taking is pushing to secure international recognition of Tuvalu’s Statehood as permanent and its existing maritime boundaries as fixed, despite the effects of sea level rise and climate change on Tuvalu’s land territory. We want to ensure that, should anything happen to our land territory, Tuvalu will continue to be recognised as a sovereign country and our claims to the seas surrounding our land will not be compromised.

Some of the major steps we have already begun to implement are:

  • Embedding in the 2020 Tuvalu Foreign Policy Te Sikulagi a provision that Tuvalu will only form new bilateral relations with nations that recognise Tuvalu’s Statehood and existing maritime boundaries as permanent.
  • Establishing new diplomatic relations and reaffirming existing relations via joint communiques that provide for bilateral recognition of Tuvalu’s Statehood and existing maritime boundaries as permanent.
  • Overseeing work to amend Tuvalu law to recognise the nation’s Statehood and maritime boundaries as permanent despite the effects of sea level rise.
  • Pursuing various other efforts to develop customary international law on the retention of Statehood and maritime boundaries in the face of sea level rise so that these issues gain traction as recognised legal norms and become accepted standards in international law.
  • Supporting Pacific regional and international efforts that align with national actions, such as promoting the Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the Face of Climate Change-related Sea-Level Rise, which was collectively endorsed by Pacific Islands Forum Leaders in 2021.

My country stands against relocation as a solution to the climate crisis because Tuvalu is a sovereign country, and its population has the right to live, develop, and prosper on its own land. Relocating populations affected by climate change provides a “quick fix” while failing to address the root causes of the climate crisis. At the same time, we must realistically address land loss and land degradation issues and how they affect the security of our nation.

Protecting our Statehood and maritime boundaries now is one way we can ensure our future as a nation under any scenario while still proactively lobbying other nations to fulfill their shared responsibility to address climate change and sea level rise to achieve global wellbeing.

The Honourable Simon Kofe is Tuvalu’s Minister for Justice, Communication and Foreign Affairs.


See Croakey’s archive on global health and climate change