Pacific islands are struggling to survive before rising sea levels engulf them

Although they contribute less than 0.03% of the world’s total carbon emissions, the Pacific Islands are on the front line of the climate crisis. Entire countries could go under water in the next two to three decades. How do these island nations fight for their survival?

The country is more than its land. A country is its people, nature, culture, traditions, history and ability to self-govern as a nation. But without a sovereign land on which to stand, can a country continue to exist?

This is the once unimaginable question some Pacific Island nations have to grapple with. Due to disasters caused by climate change, entire countries in the Pacific Ocean will soon become uninhabitable. Many of them are set to be completely submerged by the end of the century. Even if the world manages to keep global warming below 1.5°C, atoll nations like Tuvalu or Kiribati are facing specific immersion.

Pacific Islands are on the front line of the climate crisis, despite their contribution less than 0.03% of the world’s total carbon emissions. To circumvent the catastrophic conditions caused by climate change, they are taking desperate measures to protect their existence.

A country without a territory

On November 15, a few days after the launch of COP27, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Tuvalu, Simon Coffey Address the world with an urgent message. Standing behind a wooden lectern, he declared that the small Pacific island nation would become the world’s first digital nation.

“Since COP26, the world has not moved,” he said, as the flags of the United Nations and Tuvalu fluttered in the light ocean breeze behind him. “We had to take our precautionary steps… Our land, our ocean, and our culture are our people’s most valuable possession. To keep them safe from harm, no matter what happens in the physical world, we will move them to the cloud.”

Located midway between Hawaii and Australia, it is a group of nine islands that make up the country and has a population of about 12,000. As a low-lying atoll nation, it is particularly vulnerable to the effects of sea level rise, such as beach erosion, pollution of fresh water sources and destruction of subsistence food crops. The country is set to become uninhabitable the next day From 20 to 30 years old. In order to preserve what remains, it will be the first country to replicate itself in the metaverse.

This decision is part of Tuvalu’s decision The future project is now, which is a preparation plan for the worst-case scenario the country could face due to climate change. Creating a digital twin of its lands is a form of conservation and a way to digitally replicate its lands and preserve its culture. The virtual space will allow Tuvaluans to interact with their land and its natural beauty, but also to interact with each other using their own language and customs.

Tuvalu is also planning to take its administrative and administrative systems online. But can you exercise sovereignty over a virtual land? For Nick Kelly and Marcus Voth, professors at Queensland University of Technology, the answer is yes and no.

in article Published in The Conversation, Kelly and Voth argue that “the combination of these technology capabilities and governance features of Tuvalu’s ‘digital twin’ is possible.” Examples such as Estonia’s e-residency system, a digital form of residency where non-Estonians can access services such as company registration, are cause for hope. That’s how it is Virtual embassiessuch as the one founded by Sweden’s Second Life digital platform.

But having the entire population of a country, even a small one like Tuvalu, interact online in real time is a technical challenge. “There are issues with bandwidth and computing power and the fact that many users have an aversion to headphones,” argue Kelly and Voth. Moreover, technological responses to climate change “often exacerbate the problem because of their energy and resource intensity.”

Tuvalu’s digital replica is likely to resemble an online museum and digital community, but is far less likely to be a “vulgar nation-state,” according to the professors.

Moving on, last resort

About Lavitanalaghi Ciro, Policy Coordinator for the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network (PiC)pecan), Tuvalu is exploring its options. The 30-year-old Fijian says there are still many challenges to think about. For example, the question of Tuvalu’s EEZ, the area with jurisdiction over resources. “What will happen to that?” He asks, “The UN convention is very clear about how it is measured. It has to be determined from a piece of dry land.”

Tuvalu’s future prospects are “heartbreaking” for Siru, who sees the small island nation’s fate mirrored in his native Fiji. Although atoll states like Tuvalu are more vulnerable to weather disasters than other Pacific states like Fiji, which have dependably higher altitudes, they face similar challenges. “Nothing can hold back the pain, the trauma and the homelessness [Pacific Islanders will endure]that feeling of being disconnected from your roots,” Ciro says.

with 65% Of the Fijians who live within 5 km of the shore, the threat of sea level rise is imminent.

For the past four years, a special arm of the Fijian government has been trying to work out how to get the country moving. You have created 130 pages plan It is called “Standard Operating Procedures for Planned Transfers”, which will soon be presented to the Cabinet for approval. The plan outlines how to resettle communities whose homes will soon be flooded. So far, six villages have already been moved, and another 42 are planned to be moved over the next five to ten years.

“Resettlement of communities is our last resort, not something we should be doing in the first place,” Ciro says. “We shouldn’t cut our communities off from their ancestral land.” And to do it with dignity is not easy. Besides homes, churches, schools, roads, health centers and basic infrastructure, moving a community also means moving cemeteries, for example.

Taking into account each custom and needs of the community is also vital. Relocating an inland fishing community and requiring them to farm on the land can present challenges, as can moving elders over hills where access is complicated.

Seru grew up in a small town called Nausori and spent three years of his childhood among his relatives in an intimate coastal community. Although he witnessed the consequences of climate change growing up, he didn’t connect the dots at the time. “We just thought it was a natural occurrence,” he says. It was only when he went to university that he started putting the pieces together.

Then, in 2016, Hurricane Winston swept and wiping out a third of Fiji’s GDP in damage.

“The roof of our family house rolled down like a piece of paper,” Ciro explains, “because of the wind our root crops were damaged, so my family had to rely on food from supermarkets. You need money for these things.” The hurricane destroyed so much that some families are still unable to rebuild their homes to this day. “They’re just trying to put food on the table, not thinking about what job they can get to make a better life,” Ciro says.

‘The root cause of our problems’

Ciro’s voice grows sharper when asked what the international community could do better. His home, like many Pacific islands, is on the front line of the climate crisis despite contributing only a tiny fraction of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“Developed countries, countries that use coal and produce fossil fuels, should end any further expansion of their fossil fuel industries,” he says, “that’s the root cause of our problems.” But even though the scientific community, NGOs, and climate activists like Seru have pleaded with countries to get rid of fossil fuels, multinationals like TotalEnergies and Shell plan to open up New oil and gas production sites.

Funding is also urgently needed. Ciro explains that although vulnerable nations in the Pacific have plans to mitigate and adapt to climate-induced events, they do not have the money to implement these plans. “If you look at the string of disasters that we face every year… one happens, people are still recovering, and then another hits. Where are we going to get the money (to rebuild)?”

For young Fijians, it is the responsibility of countries that have “benefited from our resources” to provide funds.

The COP27 summit concluded in a historic atmosphere Loss and Damage Fund, geared towards developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The money will cover the cost of damages that these countries cannot avoid or cope with. Nearly 200 countries, including countries from the European Union and the United States, have agreed to contribute.

By 2050 and up 216 million People could be displaced by climate change. Migration or resettlement was not addressed at COP27 draft agreement.

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