HONG KONG – Tuvalu’s approach at the COP26 climate summit: Show, not tell.
In a recorded speech to be broadcast on Tuesday at the summit, the Pacific island nation’s foreign minister, Simon Kofe, is standing in a suit and tie at a lectern in the water, his trouser legs rolled up to his knees, as he stands on what used to be be dry land.
The waters around Tuvalu, whose highest point is about 4.5 meters above sea level, are rising about 0.2 inches per year – faster than the global average. Like many of its neighbors, Tuvalu warns that without global action, its country will almost certainly be completely submerged.
Pacific island nations like Tuvalu are among the most vulnerable to climate change, but coronavirus outbreaks and the difficulty of traveling during a pandemic have deterred most of their leaders from attending the summit in Glasgow, Scotland.
In his speech, Kofe said that the eight islands of Tuvalu are “sacred” to their 12,000 inhabitants.
“They were the home of our ancestors, they are the home of our people today and we want them to remain the home of our people in the future,” he said.
Their remoteness combined with early border closings made Pacific island states the last places on earth to be affected by the virus, with Tonga recording its first case in October. But some have seen major outbreaks this year raising fears that their health systems may be overwhelmed. Travelers arriving from abroad are often subject to strict quarantine requirements.
“Ultimately, we talk about the extinction of languages, cultures and people’s lives, and why should we accept that?”
Palau President Surangel Whipps, Jr. said
In the end, only the leaders of three Pacific island states personally attended the summit: Fiji, Palau and Tuvalu.
“You definitely felt that emptiness,” Palau President Surangel Whipps, Jr. said in an interview on Tuesday.
Whipps said he spoke with President David Kabua of the Marshall Islands, an atoll nation that averages seven feet above sea level that the The World Bank said last month would be one of the first to be existentially threatened by rising sea levels.
“I could feel it in his voice when he was talking to me,” said Whipps. “He said, ‘I’m really asking you to represent us because this is our last chance.'”
In his speech At the COP26 World Leaders Summit on November 2nd, Whipps emphasized the importance of limiting the average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. He also urged developed countries to significantly increase their climate finance commitments to developing countries, including climate adaptation finance.
The resources of Palau, a nation of about 18,000 people, are “disappearing before our eyes,” he said.
“To be honest, a slow and painful death has no dignity,” he said in his speech. “You might as well bomb our islands instead of making us suffer.”
Although some Pacific island states fill their COP26 delegations with representatives from their missions in the United States and Europe, overall they have fewer high-level government officials and civil society representatives in Glasgow than at previous climate summits. Climate activists say that makes attending any meeting difficult and puts pressure on some of the world’s largest emitters, including the US and China.
“It’s good when there is solidarity and everyone is there to give that voice and of course to talk to executives and motivate them to make the right choice,” said Whipps.
A group of activists said Monday that the largest delegation at COP26 was the one representing the fossil fuel industry. A Analysis by the group, led by the international non-governmental organization Global Witness, found that at least 503 industry lobbyists were on the preliminary list of participants. That is more than any other country, the closest comes Brazil with 479 delegates.
Sam Leon, chief investigator at Global Witness, said that many fossil fuel companies represented at COP26 in the past “primarily denied climate change and then pushed forward bogus solutions that simply derail or divert from the main focus that is being.” got to”. Radically reduce emissions. “
In the Pacific, many watch the summit from afar.
Belyndar Rikimani and Atina Schutz, both climate activists studying law in Vanuatu, started planning their trip to Scotland months ago. However, since they are not Vanuatu citizens – Rikimani is from the Solomon Islands and Schütz from the Marshall Islands – pandemic border restrictions would have prevented them from re-entering the country and continuing their studies after COP26.
Others in the region were unable to attend the summit due to border closings, high flight and accommodation costs, or lack of access to Covid-19 vaccines.
In Vanuatu, Rikimani said the cost of a pre-departure Covid test alone was about 25,000 vatu ($ 225), which is half a month’s salary for some people.
“It was just too much to fix for some of us,” said Rikimani, 24, vice president of Pacific Islands students fighting climate change.
Although Rikimani and Schutz, along with three others from their group in Scotland, took part virtually in COP26, they had to struggle with technical breakdowns and enormous time differences.
“Being there virtually is just not the same thing as being physically there and being able to talk to people,” said Schutz, 23, an awareness officer for students in the Pacific Islands fighting climate change.
In Palau, Whipps said climate change has resulted in coral bleaching, drought, extreme heat and long periods of the tourism-dependent country’s famous stingless jellyfish disappearing.
Changing weather patterns have also brought about strong storms for which homes were not built. And like their counterparts in Tuvalu, officials in Palau worry about the sinking of their islands, which have their own chiefs and sometimes their own language.
“When the island is gone, how can you still be a chief?” Said Whipps. “Ultimately, we talk about the extinction of languages, cultures and people’s lives, and why should we accept that?”