SINKING: RISING SEA LEVEL MAY SUBMERGE TUVALU

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The world watches as the foreign minister of Tuvalu stands in the water, addressing the august gathering of the world at COP26 Glasgow. His photo begins to circulate on the internet and takes social media by storm. More than his act, it’s the reality that hits people.

Where is Tuvalu?

Tuvalu is a country in the West-Central Pacific Ocean. It was formerly called Ellice Islands and along with Kiribati (formerly called the Gilbert Islands), it formed the British Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony before gaining independence in 1978. It is a group of 9 small islands scattered over a distance of 420 miles. Its capital Vaiaku is located on the Fongafale islet, which is a part of Funafuti atoll.

The 9 islands under Tuvalu, includes both atolls and reef islands. The atolls are – Nanumea, Nui, Nukufetau, Funafuti, and Nukulaelae which encircle a shallow lagoon. The reef Islands are- Nanumanga, Niutao, Vaitupu, and Niulakita. These islands are low-lying, 4 to 5 meters above sea level.

A victim of Climate Terrorism

The speech of Tuvalu’s foreign minister at the UN climate conference in Glasgow was a reminder to the world of the need for urgent action. The place where the minister stood to address the UN, used to be a land some years back. But now it’s submerged underwater. His act of standing knee-deep in water was a statement of proof that climate change is happening and soon Tuvalu will submerge as the world sets goals.

Simon Kofe - Tuvalu's Minister for Justice, Communication & Foreign Affairs)
Simon Kofe – Tuvalu’s Minister for Justice, Communication & Foreign Affairs)- Image – Reuters

The leaders from Tuvalu have been raising the issue of climate change for years now. The planet’s fourth-smallest nation may face extinction because of climate change they say. Rising sea levels and deadly storms are already threatening the island nation. A nation that has its highest point at 5 meters is under real threat of erosion and inundation under the sea.

Earlier, the prime minister of Tuvalu told the United Nations in his strong-worded statement that ‘global warming threat is no different from a slow and insidious form of terrorism against us.’

If taken literally, then we are all part of the terror which is haunting Tuvalu. Whenever we use fossil fuel we contribute to climate change. The worst part about this is that no one will make us accountable for it. We will never be asked about our role in drowning a living nation.

Will Climate change submerge Tuvalu?

Scientists on this matter are as divided as their opinions. Many of them agree that the location and physical nature of the island nation makes it particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels due to global warming. They implicitly hint that dark days for Tuvalu are nearing. In evidence, they show the tens of feet of lost land on the beachfront. Eventually, the entire nation of Tuvalu may submerge, they say.

On the other hand, a faction of the scientific community contests the claim. Critics go to length to say the inhabitants of Tuvalu are exploiting the crisis to gain entry to New Zealand and Australia. Others say that they are Eco-imperialists who are imposing their alarmist environmental views on the rest of the world.

What is Tuvalu doing to save itself?

That’s the biggest dilemma that is facing the 10,000 people of Tuvalu. What can they do to prevent the sinking of their nation? Nothing. They can only stand and watch while it sinks. It’s not their action that is leading to sea-level rise. Yes, they might have contributed to a minuscule percentage of global warming over the decades, but nothing in comparison to the rest of the world. Yet, they will become the first ones to pay the price.

The government of Tuvalu is looking for legal ways to exist as a legal entity in the international community once they lose their land. They are consulting International law to retain their maritime rights and existence as an independent state. The population of the island nation is already thinking about its options. While many are ready to leave the island, the others are ready to sink with their land. Seems as if everyone has made up their mind.

Also read – A Society at Risk: Social Impacts of Climate Change