Tuvalu’s Future Now Project : The Sinking Islands Nation Climate Diplomacy

While there is only one decade left to push down the climate tasks, the adverse effects of the crisis are becoming increasingly apparent around the globe. According to United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN IPCC),  about 3.3 billion people worldwide lives are highly vulnerable due to climate change . To address this issue, there has been narrative about Most Affected People and Areas (MAPA) which refers to people in the regions, mostly consist of developing countries and small islands from The Global South. The MAPA is currently a frontliner of climate crisis. United Nations Development Programme Administrator, Achim Steiner stated that developing nations have demonstrated decisive climate action despite their least contribution of emission compared to developed nations (United Nations, 2021). United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (2021) reported 78 countries from the group of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) are responsible for only 7% of global emissions. At the time of suffering, these countries have to deal with global dilatory respond and inaction to solemnly tackling climate change.

As a part of SIDS, Tuvalu has become one islands nation that severely being impacted by climate change. Tuvalu experienced hightened temperature to 0.8 oC since 1980s (WB & ADB, 2020). A tiny home of 11.000 lives which sized only 26 km2, a number of scientists expected Tuvalu would be uninhabitable – or even disappear as the worst scenario in the next 50 – 100 years (Gallagher, 2019). In midst of stagnation of global climate effort, Tuvalu initiate a national program namely Tuvalu’s Future Project Now to secure itself.

Tuvalu’s Future Now Project Initiative : A Strategic Climate Diplomacy

The worsening impact of climate change and the stagnation of global climate governance have stimulated Tuvalu’s pessimism about its existence in the future. Global inaction to climate crisis was caused by a stalemate in negotiations due to conflicting interests between the Climate Vulnerable Forum and the Major Economies Forum, which are in stark contrast. Last year, Tuvalu Prime Minister, Simon Kofe have virtually spoke to the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow and has been delivering a powerful message through evoking action. He stood  up to above his knees in the ocean that surround the small state’s nine atolls islands in a bid to raise awareness that the state is currently sinking by sea level rising and how his and the other islands nations could literally disappear because of climate catastrophe. At the COP27 Sharm El-Sheikh last November, on a video conference Prime Minister Kofe once again lamented the global inaction that has put his country on the brink of extinction. This makes the country have to innovate to maintain its existence if in the future the predicted worst scenario – sinked Tuvalu – literally occurs. Kofe stated “Island like this one won’t survive rapid temperature increases, rising sea levels, and droughts. So we’ll create them virtually”.

To answer the question “what will Tuvalu do if it geographically vanished at the end of the day?”, Tuvalu initiate the idea of digital nation by converting itself into a virtual reality as part of the Te Ataeao Nei Project in Tuvaluan or Tuvalu’s Future Now Project series. The project under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice, Communication and Foreign Affairs, which was officially launched on October 27, 2021, generally consists of three main discourses (Kofe, 2021), namely promoting value-based diplomacy, ensuring the determination of state and maritime boundaries when facing sea ​​level rise, and the development of a digital nation which is the main point on this discussion.  The Tuvalu’s Future Now Project initiative can be seen as a strategic climate diplomacy.

Climate diplomacy can be understood as a process of placing climate action as a shared priority for various parties in a partnership through diplomatic dialogue, public diplomacy and the utilization of external policy instruments. The goals of climate diplomacy is to ensure security and stability, inspire or encourage real action against climate change. In line with this, Sura and Schweimler (2013) argue that the ultimate goal of climate diplomacy are to build political conditions for international agreements and to facilitate coordination and cooperation in United Nations negotiations. In order to strengthen climate diplomacy, Sura and Schweimler (2013) put forward three ways, which are making climate change a priority issue, capacity building for state’s representative and diplomat and carrying out effective diplomacy at the international level. Furthermore, an effective climate diplomacy must be able to address the failures of existing climate cooperation; failure to drive a sufficient international response to tackle climate crisis and failure to construct a fair political agreement.

Tuvalu’s Future Now project initiative has qualified as an effective climate diplomacy. The initiative promotes diplomacy based on Tuvaluan traditional values ​​of fakafenua (communal living system), kaitasi (shared responsibility), and fale-pili (being a good neighbor) in the hope that these values ​​can motivate other nations to understand their shared responsibility to address climate change and sea level rise to achieve global well-being (Kofe, 2021). According to Kofe (2021), Tuvalu’s Future Now Project shows at least two things. First, the view of small and developing countries that want to continue to influence and change the mindset of the international world, that the most vulnerable to climate change is no longer pin their expectations on international cooperation and more likely prefer to act alone to save themselves. Second, following the worsening impacts of climate change, innovative steps must be taken immediately to overcome the worst scenario ahead. Tuvalu showed itself could no longer wait for the international community to act hand in hand to combat climate change, because it had already happened in front of their very eyes. Nothing is more important for Tuvalu than saving itself from the climate crisis.

The digital state of Tuvalu as one of the project agenda reflects efforts to “save its own existence” because Tuvalu is at risk of losing its geographical sovereignty. Therefore, in order to maintain itself as a sovereign country, transforming itself into a digital state is an ultimate alternative for Tuvalu. This plan also shows the failure of global climate governance which cannot accommodate the interests of Tuvalu as a small country whose voice must be sidelined by the interests of developed countries that dominate global climate negotiations. This innovation follows Alexander’s argument (2017), that climate diplomacy begins at home, but it requires creative thinking, constant lobbying, and technical substance.

Annisa Nabilatul Khaira
Annisa Nabilatul Khaira
Annisa Nabilatul Khaira is currently pursuing her postgraduate education on Master of International Relations program at Gadjah Mada University, Indonesia. Has an enormous interest on climate change issue, gender studies and human rights