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Thoughts on the road to COP29: A case study on Tuvalu

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By Venera N. Anderson

· 6 min read

Despite nearly three decades of climate negotiations, the world will face a global temperature increase of 2.9°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100, even if all current unconditional climate pledges are fully implemented. Fully implementing conditional Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) would lower this temperature to 2.5°C (UNEP, 2023). The Earth has already warmed by nearly 1.1 °C due to anthropogenic climate change (Bhandari et al., 2024). One group of Parties, the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), has been particularly vocal and proactive since the negotiations that led to the formation of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). Climate change is crucial to SIDS, such as Tuvalu, since these small nations are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts, which will become devastating if no appropriate action is taken (UNFCCC, 2005).

Tuvalu is a “least developed country” (United Nations, 2024, p. 1) in the west-central Pacific Ocean. It comprises nine small coral islands scattered in a chain laying approximately northwest to southeast over nearly 676 km (420 miles). Tuvalu and now Kiribati (formerly known as the Gilbert Islands) formed the British Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony before separately gaining its independence in 1978 (Macdonald, 2024). Tuvalu includes atolls and reef islands. The atolls, Nanumea, Nui, Nukufetau, Funafuti, and Nukulaela, have islets encircling a shallow lagoon; the reef islands, Nanumanga, Niutao, Vaitupu, and Niulakita, are compact islands with a fringing reef. These islands are low-lying, the most being 13 to 16 feet (4 to 5 meters) above sea level. There are no rivers; rain catchments and wells provide only fresh water. Rainfall averages 100 inches (2,500 mm) north and 125 inches (3,175 mm) in the south. Since Tuvalu's soils are porous, agriculture is limited to coconut palms, breadfruit trees, pandanus, taro, and bananas. Tuvalu increasingly depends on imported food. The residents usually raise pigs and chickens and catch fish, shellfish, and seabirds for food. (Macdonald, 2024). 

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Source: Tuvalu. Encyclopadia Brinnanica, Inc. MacDonald, B (2024).

Unfortunately, Tuvalu appears to be at the frontline of climate change due to rising sea levels. According to the IPCC, the global average sea level rose 1.7 mm annually from 1901 to 2010. The rate was faster from 1993 to 2010, nearly 3.2 mm per year, bringing the IPCC's estimated total sea level rise in the last century to 0.17 meters (6.69 inches). The IPCC Sixth assessment does not rule out a sea level rise of 2 meters by 2100 and 5 meters by 2150 under high-emissions scenarios (Hunter et al., 2022). Tuvalu's extreme vulnerability to climate change, mainly due to rising sea levels, is due to its geographic makeup. This small island developing state faces the dual threats of global warming and the subsequent melting of ice caps and glaciers. Tuvalu is also increasingly battered by more frequent and severe weather events, namely storm surges and cyclones. Such events further negatively affect the delicate balance of the island's ecosystem, which is detrimental to the livelihood of its residents. In 2021, Tuvalu’s Foreign Minister Simon Kofe addressed COP26 knee-deep, standing in his business suit near the podium in the encroaching waters to highlight sea level rise and climate crisis (Prete, 2024)

Which is more pressing for Tuvalu – mitigation or adaptation?  

Based on the profound impact of climate change on Tuvalu, the claims about the existential risk to its existence are not alarmist. Instead, they reflect the possibility that, along with other 192 nation-states, Tuvalu may not exist as a country in a few decades (Gallager, 2021). A swift international response is needed to help Tuvalu. Climate policy responses are usually gathered into two broad categories: mitigation and adaptation. UNFCC defines mitigation activities as those that help "reduce the sources of greenhouse gases or enhance the sinks" and adaptation policy responses as those "adjustments[s] in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities" (Hunter et al., 2021, p. 616). Greenhouse gas emissions reductions and sequestration efforts (i.e., protecting forests and other natural carbon sinks, capturing and injecting carbon dioxide deep underground) fall in the mitigation category. Examples of adaptation include the international relocation of coastal and island communities, evacuation and disaster relief plans, and building higher levees. Infrastructure, behavior, governance, technology, and management changes also represent adaptation responses (Hunter et al., 2022). 

Although mitigation responses are essential for Tuvalu, adaptation efforts are now more pressing for the survival of its citizens. UNFCC Support for adaptation support in developing countries is found in Article 4.4. “Developed countries shall assist the developing countries in meeting costs of adaptation to Climate Change” (UNFCC, 1992, p. 8). For example, on November 9, 2023, Australia and Tuvalu signed a cooperation agreement called the Falepili Union. This landmark deal extends a lifeline to 280 Tuvaluans annually, granting them permanent residency in Australia. The agreement comprises three crucial aspects: climate cooperation, mobility, and security. Australia commits to assisting Tuvalu in adapting to climate impacts, contributing AU$11 million (US$7.2 million) to the Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project. The mobility component introduces a unique pathway for Tuvaluans to live, study, and work in Australia permanently, while the security clauses include assistance following natural disasters (Prete, 2024). Moreover, Tuvalu joined other SIDS to seek reparations for climate change damage and debt cancellation (White, 2022). Additionally, Tuvalu officials have been preparing for COP29 with Commonwealth training on climate finance negotiations (Commonwealth, 2024). 

As the world marches on the road to COP29, it should not be forgotten that the sinking of Tuvalu holds vital implications for the entire global community. On the one hand, the loss of this small island nation will displace its population and erase a unique cultural history and heritage. On the other hand, the demise of Tuvalu will be a tragic prelude to the imminent fate of other numerous vulnerable nations if urgent actions to fight climate change are not taken. Therefore, by acting collaboratively and decisively to win the battle for Tuvalu, the world might just save itself in the war against climate change.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.


Bhandari, P., Warszawski, N., Cogan, D., & Gerholdt, R. (2024, February 26). What is “loss and damage” from climate change? 8 Key questions answered. World Resources Institute.

Gallager, A. (2021, November 11). Climate justice: small island states push back. The Gleaner.

Hunter, D., Salzman, J., Zaelke, D. (2022). International Environmental Law and Policy. (6th ed.). Foundation Press.

Macdonald, B. K. (2024, June 8). Tuvalu. Brittanica.

Prete, G. (2024, January 29). Tuvalu’s sinking reality: How climate change is threatening the small island nation.

The Commonwealth (2024, May 2). Tuvalu prepares for COP29 with Commonwealth training on climate finance negotiations. The Commonwealth.

United Nations (2024). List of SIDS. United Nations.

UNEP (2023). Emissions gap report 2023. UNEP.

UNFCCC (2005). Climate Change, Small Island Developing States. Climate Change Secretariat (UNGCCC). UNFCC.

UNFCCC (1992). United Nations framework convention on climate change. UNFCCC.

White, A. (2022, February 18). Island states meet to discuss suing Global North over climate change. Open Democracy.

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About the author

Following her tenure on Wall Street at Salomon Smith Barney, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and Credit Suisse, Dr. Venera N. Anderson is now an independent global strategy advisor and published author on sustainability and climate issues. She creates and implements innovative solutions that address the most pressing global problems, such as climate change, economic development, and humanitarian challenges. Venera is a member of the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, Rotary International's Paul Harris Fellow, a global speaker, and an international expert in "Women in Green Hydrogen." She is a co-author of the book "Touching Hydrogen Future," author of "The Fight Against Poverty in the BRICS Countries," and co-author of five books on poverty in transitional economies.

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