• Aretina Stefani

Tuvalu searching for legal resorts to ensure statehood if it is submerged due to rising sea levels

A COP-26 Speech delivered from the ocean


Tuvalu is exploring legal measures to retain its ownership of its maritime zones and recognition as a state amid ominous predictions of complete submersion due to climate change, its foreign minister Simon Kofe said on Tuesday, 9 November 2021.


Images of Kofe recording his speech to the United Nations COP26 climate summit standing knee-deep in the sea of Funafuti - a place that used to be land - have gone viral on social media, further highlighting the importance of Tuvalu’s claims, which is pushing for aggressive action to limit the adverse effects of climate change.


"We're actually imagining a worst-case scenario where we are forced to relocate or our lands are submerged," stated Kofe in his interview with Reuters.


Although the territory of a state is not strictly limited to land territory, states should declare their baselines, as a matter of urgency to internationally authenticate their existing land territory and maritime zones, elements of utmost importance in maintaining stable ocean governance and friendly relations between nations.


As much as Kofe’s allegations might sound like a sensationalist sci-fi scenario, these concerns are a reality for many, and unfortunately are only becoming ever truer.


Tuvalu’s Current Predicament


Tuvalu is a coral atoll comprising nine islands located in the South Pacific. Formerly a British protectorate, it achieved independence in 1978 and joined the United Nations in 2000. Because the country is so low lying — with an average elevation above sea level of roughly two meters — it is among the most climate-vulnerable island nations-such as the Maldives and Kiribati, standing in peril of being swallowed up by the waves within fifty years.


As the climate emergency keeps intensifying, the Tuvaluan population is left with little alternatives, the most prominent being emigrating abroad.


For that reason the government has formulated a plan to move the whole population, of approximately 11,000, off the islands over a roughly thirty-year period starting in 2002, and it has asked the neighboring countries of New Zealand and Australia to open their doors to the migrants. As of the present date, New Zealand has agreed to take in 116 “labor immigrants” a year, but Australia has refused to accommodate Tuvalu’s request.


Climate change has been a sticking point on Tuvalu’s international relations agenda since at least 15 years, as it was the first nation to begin a legal dispute between sovereign states over the question of liability for global warming by suing corporations in the United States and Australia for producing greenhouse gases, the cause of global warming.


Article sources:

https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/tuvalu-looking-legal-ways-be-state-if-it-is-submerged-2021-11-09/

https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/tuvalu-sea-level-rise-state-cop26-b1955865.html

“Problems and Prospects of International Legal Disputes on Climate Change”, Okamatsu A. available here: https://www.sprep.org/att/irc/ecopies/countries/tuvalu/47.pdf

“Changes in Sea Level,” in IPCC, Climate Change: The Scientific Basis (Cambridge University Press: 2001)