We need a ‘COP of action’ Tuvalu PM tells the world

COP26/Tuvalu: Sinking islands are not the future result of climate change, but the reality Tuvalu’s people are living through right here, and right now.

That was the impassioned plea from Tuvalu’s Prime Minister, Kausea Natano to  world leaders attending the COP26 in Glasgow.

“Right now, 40% of the central district of Tuvalu’s capital Funafuti is already below sea level at highest tide measures. These are not predicted, future measures; this is the reality we are living with today. We cannot wait; we must make bold decisions and take firm action to secure our future.”

It is not the first time Tuvalu’s leaders have made an emotional plea on the world stage, but its Natano’s first COP and it was clear he was not going to let it go by so easily.

“This COP must be a COP of action! We must act now to ensure that all States recognise their shared responsibility to protect the global community and to ensure that all States are held accountable for this responsibility.

“We must lead the charge to develop global norms, practices, and meaningful changes to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change and sea level rise.”

As the immediate past chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, the Tuvalu leader also used his recent experience to call for action on several fronts, including the:

  • Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law:

In the midst of COP26, we signed an agreement with the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda to establish a Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law. The Commission is authorised to request advisory opinions from the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) on the legal responsibility of States for carbon emissions, marine pollution, and rising sea levels. We must support initiatives of this nature to develop and implement fair and just global and environmental norms and practices, including compensation for loss and damage.

  • Preservation of maritime zones and boundaries:

The existential threat of climate change and sea level rise has strengthened our resolve to preserve our statehood and sovereignty. In this respect, we have embarked on international discussion on legal mechanisms that can recognize our maritime boundaries and assets as permanent despite the impacts of sea level rise. We must also ensure that legal mechanisms are in place to protect the cultures, languages, and heritages of nations like Tuvalu, including through digitization and building mobile digital nations.

We must uphold domestic, regional, and international endeavors to this effect, such as the Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the Face of Climate Change-related Sea-Level Rise. This regional declaration was endorsed by Pacific Islands Forum Leaders this year and seeks to ensure that Forum Members’ maritime zones cannot be challenged or reduced as a result of climate change-related sea-level rise.

  • Kainaki II Declaration:

Despite the call made by Pacific Islands Forum Leaders in 2019 through the Kainaki II Declaration for Urgent Climate Action Now to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, I want to make it plainly clear that, even if all GHG emissions ceased tomorrow, Tuvalu, and other low-lying atoll nations, are sinking and our land is fast disappearing.

  • Paris Rulebook:

We must conclude negotiations on the Paris Rulebook and safeguard the integrity of the Paris Agreement by stopping measures that will stall progress on its objectives.

  • Stronger Ambitions Needed:

We urge global major emitters to commit to stronger climate action and to formulate mid-century long-term low emissions development strategies. The success of this COP depends entirely on the commitment of you, the global major emitters, and your readiness to help.

  • Softer Adaptation Measures DON’T work

In Tuvalu, we are already living the future impacts of climate change now. Consequently, soft adaptation approaches, such as nature-based solutions, help, but, at 1.9 meters above sea level, they will not save Tuvalu from sea level rise. Tuvalu urgently needs adaptation measures based on building physical infrastructure to save ourselves. We are investing in building raised reclamation lands to preserve our physical existence as a viable state. This is our utmost priority now. There is no point in investing in soft and piecemeal adaptation measures when we are losing our land territory at an alarming rate.

  • Climate Finance:

Too often, medium and long-term adaptation finance and implementation have been left to the private sector to handle. Private sector support is critical and should be enhanced, but it should not overshadow the important resources that can be offered through international public finance.

We must mobilise large-scale adaptation financing now—financing that is not delayed by COVID-19; that prioritizes the most vulnerable; and that is sourced through the Markets Mechanism and delivered through public and grant-based financing, rather than loans.

Our success as Pacific SIDS depends on this. We must cooperate to conclude Article 6 negotiations and finalise an Article 6 that delivers substantial overall mitigation in global emissions, as well as substantial financial resources to assist vulnerable developing countries in meeting the costs of adaptation.

  • Commitments and Promises won’t Save Tuvalu, only Finance will:

For atoll nations, the ravages of sea level rise will defeat all of our efforts and development gains with regard to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Current global mitigation commitments and promises will not save us.

For atoll nations like Tuvalu, we urgently require the means to build raised reclamation land to save ourselves. All other adaptation measures are secondary and should come only after we have secured the continued physical existence of our land territory despite the effects of sea level rise.

  • Loss & Damage is NOT Adaptation, they should be treated separately:

We cannot allow the reallocation of adaptation funding to address loss and damage. We require stronger guidance on loss and damage financing, and we must develop new financing mechanisms or funding windows for loss and damage. This would include consideration of the impacts of climate change on fisheries as part of loss and damage under slow onset events.

  • Taiwan

The impacts of climate change are affecting the entire world including the Republic of China (Taiwan), and Taiwan continues to effectively contribute to global efforts in combating the impacts of climate change through renewable energy innovations, national policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and providing support for countries like Tuvalu that are at the forefront of climate change. To truly and fully address the impacts of climate change, we must welcome the meaningful participation of Taiwan in the activities of the UNFCCC.