FEATURE: A nation with a climate target

60-year-old Toma Liveti watching the ocean from his home on the island of Funafuti, Tuvalu. Photo: Puaseiese A. Pedro
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Threatened by climate change, Tuvalu forges ahead to become a renewable energy-reliant nation by 2025


Tuvalu Broadcasting Corporation (TBC)

AT his Kavatoetoe village on the island of Funafuti, Tuvalu, 60-year-old Toma Liveti is building a seawall in front of his house.

The wall was designed to prevent the frequent big waves that are threatening his family home, backyard food garden and poultry farm.

While the future looks bleak for Liveti and his family because of rising sea level, he is hoping the seawall would keep the rising waters at bay while the Government of his tiny Pacific nation works with the international community to come up with measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

“I wish to call on world leaders, especially industrialized countries, to help us small atoll nations by cutting down your emissions,” Liveti told me in an interview.

“We are not only small but poor, financially…” he added.

Located in the west-central Pacific Ocean, Tuvalu has a target: to become a 100% renewable energy reliant nation by 2025.

While this may sound highly ambitious, the country’s Energy director Simona Kilei says it is achievable.

“In fact, we are already progressing towards achieving that,” Kilei said.

One of the steps being taken to push Tuvalu to achieving its renewable energy target is the passage of the Efficiency Act in 2016.

Under the Act, households are required to reduce their energy use through the purchase and use of low carbon electrical appliances in order to minimize the demand for fossil fuel.

Furthermore, Kilei said an Energy Bill is expected to be tabled in the upcoming Parliament.

If passed, Kilei says, it will become an overarching guide for all energy-related issues.

At the moment, most of Tuvalu’s outlaying islands are using solar energy, which the Government installed in people’s homes.

According to Kilei, majority of households are using solar panels for their energy needs, resulting in less demand for fuel.

“Records have shown that most of the out-laying islands have each sent in requests for only a drum of fuel per month compared to previous years.

“This is a positive sign in our efforts to become a 100% renewable energy reliant nation by 2025,” Kilei stated.

On the other hand, Funafuti, where the capital city is located and where half of the population lived, have a higher demand for electricity (fuel), hence the Energy Efficiency Act.

Recently, Tuvalu, through its Increasing Access to Renewable Energy Project (IAREP) received funding assistance from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The funding was geared towards transforming Funafuti and selected other outer island power systems from diesel-based power systems into modern power systems based on a high level of renewable energy.

This, according to Kilei, will reduce the reliance on imported fuels for power generation, while increasing the use of solar power.

The project, Kilei said, is expected to displace 6.7 million litres of diesel fuel and avoid the production of 17,800 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

“Tuvalu is always thankful to donors for funding our solar projects however, more funding are needed to put up more solar-related projects to enable the country meets its target,” Kilei said.

During COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, last year, Tuvalu’s voice was again amplified by the country’s Minister of Finance Seve Paeniu, together with leaders of other low lying atoll nations, who pleaded with the big emitters to bring their carbon emissions down to a 1.5 degrees.

Paeniu said that although big emitters have agreed to commit to the 2050 target to bring carbon emissions down to zero, 1.5 degrees need of the Pacific will still be unmet as they can only go down to 1.8 degrees, which is still a threat to low lying atoll nations.

“Why do we have to suffer because of the failure of the big emitters to reduce their carbon dioxide?” is the question that’s been asked around in Tuvalu.

It’s a big question and a matter of serious concern to Tuvaluans because culturally, Tuvaluans were taught to look after each other – the concept of ‘te falepili’ or ‘neighborliness’.

Tuvaluans were taught by their ancestors to take responsibility when violating rights of others and that has been the culture but then, the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC stated that if carbon emissions do not get below the 1.5-degree commitment by 2050, low lying atoll nations like Tuvalu will disappear.

‘Who is to be blamed then?’ is another question Tuvaluans have been asking every climate change gathering.

Like all low-lying atolls, Tuvalu is less fortunate not only in terms of finance but resources as well and therefore relies heavily on donors.

Minister Paeniu shared how glad and thankful he is that during the recent COP meeting, the increase of climate adaptation finance was approved.

“This is good news for Tuvalu as a tiny nation that is in the frontline of climate change,” Paeniu stated.

‘Loss and Damage’ is also another issue of contention among low lying atoll nations like Tuvalu and even though it did not come out well, Paeniu said Tuvalu is committed to pushing countries to come to a fair agreement.

On the island of Funafuti, 18-year-old Jeannette Tineiafi Pedro is, like most residents, worried about her future and the impacts of climate change on her country.

She is currently studying at the University of the South Pacific Tuvalu campus with the aim to get her Law degree and help other Tuvaluans fight for their rights.

Further to the south of the island, 50-year-old woman Pua Luki said although she and her families and neighbors are vulnerable to impacts of climate change, will will never move.

She vows to remain in Tuvalu no matter what.

For Liveti, the big waves that frequently hit the seawall in front of his house are a constant reminder of the threat climate change poses to his country and people.

  • This story was produced with support from the East West Center and the Internews Earth Journalism Network.