By Anusha Ojha | 03 Feb 2023
Knee-deep in seawater a few metres away from the shore, Tuvalu’s foreign minister Simon Kofe, gave an emotional and gripping speech in his address to COP26, with the hopes of drawing the world’s attention to the suffering of his people and other Pacific Island nations. It felt like a scene straight out of a futuristic, post-apocalyptic movie, yet it is the cold reality that island nations such as Tuvalu are currently grappling with.
“We must take bold, alternative action today to secure tomorrow,” Mr. Kofe emphasised. Of course, this is not the first time Pacific Island nations have voiced their concerns about climate change. Leaders of these vulnerable islands have been advocating for and making bold progress for years, in hopes of giving their nations a better chance of survival in the face of rising temperatures and sea levels.
The story of Tuvalu is a bleak one. With a population of just 12,000 people, this island nation is predicted to be uninhabitable by the end of this century – that is less than 80 years from now. Faced with such a devastating outlook, Tuvalu has made dramatic efforts to ensure the preservation of its culture, natural beauty, and way of living by becoming the first nation in the world to exist in the metaverse.
But if the rest of the world continues to watch and make minimal progress in reducing global warming, we can expect more countries to follow Tuvalu into the metaverse, a space to keep culture and tradition alive in the worst-case scenario.
For Vanuatu, another island state in the Paicifc, it is a similar story. With over 80 small islands to its name and with a GDP per capita of roughly 3000 USD, it was given the title of “Most at risk of natural disasters” by the UN in 2020, a fate that seemed to lock Vanuatu in a tragic and hopeless future.
But despite having limited resources and constantly being battered by extreme weather events, it may be surprising to learn that Pacific Island countries are making substantial progress toward a future where they can save their homes. Tuvalu has made a breakthrough discovery in mitigating extreme weather events; using state-of-the-art technology, it can survey its numerous smaller islands to collect data on land height, which is hoped to bring clarity to the issue of sea-level rise.
In the case of Vanuatu, not only has the nation converted to being carbon-negative, but it has also pledged to phase out all fossil fuels to operate the economy using 100% renewable energy by 2030. What’s more, it is one of the first developing nations to produce a comprehensive plan to address the issue of “loss and damage” and provide thorough detail on how the costs are calculated. Vanuatu is also taking the lead in a global engagement with UN seeking International Court of Justice advice on the legal obligations to tackle the climate crisis.
Vanuatu’s ambitious goals and bold steps demonstrate the resilience and proactiveness of the country’s institutions and leadership, a trait shared by many other island nations in the region.
Fiji, for example, has turned towards innovative, nature-based solutions to tackle climate change. From restoring mangrove swamps to building natural seawalls, nature-based solutions will not only help communities but also the environment. This is all part of Fiji’s ambitious Climate Change Act that came into action in 2021, which highlighted the importance of harnessing the power of nature to create climate solutions, rather than constructing artificial infrastructure.
Pacific Island countries have proven time and time again that they are willing to fight for their homeland. But tackling climate change is a global effort, and any actions these individual nations take, no matter how ambitious and progressive, will not be enough if the rest of the world is not ready to back them up. In fact, for the rest of world, particularly the developed world, it is not just backing up such smaller island states, but taking moral responsibility for the losses and damages through climate change.
A simple question puzzles me as I wrap up this Letter: if small countries on the brink of disappearing are able to achieve such substantial positive progress with limited resources, why are we still accepting lackluster and subpar climate policies from wealthy nations, especially when they are the most responsible for global warming?
We can keep debating who should do what, but what is worrying is that we are crossing the tipping point to reverse the effects of climate change. It is time that developed nations take moral responsibility and take urgent actions to help those who are most vulnerable to climate change.
This blog is part of the CliDev Letter series. We invite all professionals, researchers, practitioners, and champions of change – from newly emerging to established – to share their stories, on aspects of work covering climate and development, and related to issues and practice anywhere in the Global South.