Climate change in Tuvalu

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Climate change is of a concern in Tuvalu since the average height of the atolls is less than 2 metres (6.6 ft) above sea level, with the highest point of one of the islands being about 4.6 metres (15 ft) above sea level. Tuvalu could be one of the first nations to experience the effects of sea level rise.[1] Not only could parts of the island be flooded but the rising saltwater table could also destroy deep rooted food crops such as coconut, pulaka, and taro.[2][3]

Climate systems that affect Tuvalu[edit]

Location of Tuvalu

Tuvalu participates in the operations of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).[4] The climate of the Pacific region at the equator is influenced by a number of factors; the science of which is the subject of continuing research. The SPREP described the climate of Tuvalu as being:

“[I]nfluenced by a number of factors such as trade wind regimes, the paired Hadley cells and Walker circulation, seasonally varying convergence zones such as the South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ), semi-permanent subtropical high-pressure belts, and zonal westerlies to the south, with the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) as the dominant mode of year to year variability (…). The Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO) also is a major mode of variability of the tropical atmosphere-ocean system of the Pacific on times scales of 30 to 70 days (…), while the leading mode with decadal time-scale is the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) (…). A number of studies suggest the influence of global warming could be a major factor in accentuating the current climate regimes and the changes from normal that come with ENSO events (…).”[5]
Sea surface temperature anomalies in November 2007 showing La Niña conditions. Blue=temperature below average; red=temperature above average

The sea level in Tuvalu varies as a consequence of a wide range of atmospheric and oceanographic influences. The 2011 report of the Pacific Climate Change Science Program published by the Australian Government,[6] describes a strong zonal (east‑to-west) sea-level slope along the equator, with sea level west of the International Date Line (180° longitude) being about a half metre higher than found in the eastern equatorial Pacific and South American coastal regions. The trade winds that push surface water westward create this zonal tilting of sea level on the equator. Below the equator a higher sea level can also be found about 20° to 40° south (Tuvalu is spread out from 6° to 10° south).[7]

The Pacific Climate Change Science Program Report (2011) describes the year-by-year volatility in the sea-level as resulting from the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO):

“ENSO has a major influence on sea levels across the Pacific and this can influence the occurrence of extreme sea levels. During La Niña events, strengthened trade winds cause higher than normal sea levels in the western tropical Pacific, and lower than normal levels in the east. Conversely, during El Niño events, weakened trade winds are unable to maintain the normal gradient of sea level across the tropical Pacific, leading to a drop in sea level in the west and a rise in the east. Pacific islands within about 10° of the equator are most strongly affected by ENSO‑related sea-level variations."[7]

Measuring climate change effects in Tuvalu[edit]

Ocean side of Funafuti atoll showing the storm dunes, the highest point on the atoll.

In 1978 a tide gauge was installed at Funafuti by the University of Hawaii. It has measured a sea rise of 1.2 mm per year over 23 years—a figure consistent with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) global mean estimate of 1 to 2 mm per year over the 20th century.[8] The 40 cm rise in sea level predicted by the IPCC by the end of the 21st century (not including potential increases in sea level rise from dynamic ice sheet behaviour) could have significant effects for Tuvalu.[9] However the uncertainty as to the accuracy of the data from this tide gauge resulted in a modern Aquatrak acoustic gauge being installed in 1993 by the Australian National Tidal Facility (NTF) as part of the AusAID-sponsored South Pacific Sea Level and Climate Monitoring Project.[10]

The highest elevation is 4.6 metres (15 ft) above sea level on Niulakita,[11] which gives Tuvalu the second-lowest maximum elevation of any country (after the Maldives). However, the highest elevations are typically in narrow storm dunes on the ocean side of the islands which are prone to over topping in tropical cyclones, such as occurred with Cyclone Bebe.[12][13] Funafuti’s Tepuka Vili Vili islet was devastated by Cyclone Meli in 1979, with all its vegetation and most of its sand swept away during the cyclone.[14] The atolls have shown resilience to gradual sea-level rise, with atolls and reef islands being able to grow under current climate conditions by generating sufficient sand and shingle that accumulates and gets dumped on the islands during cyclones.[15][16] Gradual sea-level rise also allows for coral polyp activity to raise the atolls with the sea level. However if the increase in sea level occurs at faster rate as compared to coral growth, or if polyp activity is damaged by ocean acidification, then the resilience of the atolls and reef islands is less certain.[17]

There is further contention as to whether saltwater encroachment that is destroying the gardens for pulaka, taro and coconut palms is the consequence of changes in the sea level;[18] or the consequence of the fresh water being extracted from the freshwater lens in the sub-surface of the atoll or the consequence of the creation of the borrow pits, which are the result of the extraction of coral to build the runway at Funafuti during World War II.[19]

The investigation of groundwater dynamics of Fongafale Islet, Funafuti, show that tidal forcing results in salt water contamination of the surficial aquifer during spring tides.[20] The degree of aquifer salinization depends on the specific topographic characteristics and the hydrologic controls in the sub-surface of the atoll. About half of Fongafale islet is reclaimed swamp that contains porous, highly permeable coral blocks that allow the tidal forcing of salt water.[21] Increases in the sea level will exacerbate the aquifer salinization as the result of increases in tidal forcing.

Estimates as to changes in the sea level relative to the islands of Tuvalu[edit]

As to whether there are measurable changes in the sea level relative to the islands of Tuvalu is a contentious issue.[22][23] The uncertainty with the pre-1993 sea level records from Funafuti meant that records over a longer period needs was needed, so that the 2002 estimates of sea level change relative to the islands of Tuvalu was presented to acknowledge a degree of uncertainty as to the conclusions made from the available data.[10]

Part of the uncertainty relates to the impact of El Niño events which (as described above) can actually result in sea levels falling by 11 inches (28.4 centimeters) as compared to the sea level during a La Niña events.[19]

The 2011 report of the Pacific Climate Change Science Program of Australian concludes: "The sea-level rise near Tuvalu measured by satellite altimeters since 1993 is about 5 mm per year."[24]

There are observable changes that have occurred over the last ten to fifteen years that show Tuvaluans that there have been changes to sea levels.[25] Those observable changes include sea water bubbling up through the porous coral rock to form pools on each high tide and flooding of low-lying areas including the airport on a regular basis during spring tides and king tides.[26][27][28][29]

2011 report of the Pacific Climate Change Science Program[edit]

The 2011 report of the "Pacific Climate Change Science Program" of Australian concludes in relation to Tuvalu that over the course of the 21st century:

• Surface air temperature and sea‑surface temperature are projected to continue to increase (very high confidence).[24]

• Annual and seasonal mean rainfall is projected to increase (high confidence).[24]

• The intensity and frequency of days of extreme heat are projected to increase (very high confidence).[24]

• The intensity and frequency of days of extreme rainfall are projected to increase (high confidence).[24]

• The incidence of drought is projected to decrease (moderate confidence).[24]

• Tropical cyclone numbers are projected to decline in the south-east Pacific Ocean basin (0–40ºS, 170ºE–130ºW) (moderate confidence).[24]

• Ocean acidification is projected to continue (very high confidence).[24]

• Mean sea-level rise is projected to continue (very high confidence).[24]

National response[edit]

The New soil programme

Tuvalu faces challenges which will be exacerbated by climate change, those challenges are: i) Coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion and increasing vector and water borne diseases due to sea level rise; ii) Inadequate potable water due to less rainfall and prolonged droughts; iii) Pulaka pit salinisation due to saltwater intrusion; and iv) Decreasing fisheries population.[30]

Tuvalu’s National Adaptation Programme of Action describes a response to the climate change problem as using the combined efforts of several local bodies on each island that will work with the local community leaders (the Falekaupule). The main office, named the Department of Environment, is responsible for coordinating the Non-Governmental Organizations, Religious Bodies, and Stakeholders. Each of the named groups are responsible for implementing Tuvalu’s National Adaptation Programme of Action, the main plan to adapt to the adverse effects of human use and climate change.[31]

Tuvalu has said it wants all its energy to come from renewable sources by 2020.[32]

In 2013 Enele Sopoaga, the prime minister of Tuvalu, said that relocating Tuvaluans to avoid the impact of sea level rise “should never be an option because it is self defeating in itself. For Tuvalu I think we really need to mobilise public opinion in the Pacific as well as in the [rest of] world to really talk to their lawmakers to please have some sort of moral obligation and things like that to do the right thing.”[33]

‘The Economics of Climate Change in the Pacific’ 2013 report of the Asian Development Bank estimates the range of potential economic impacts of climate change for agriculture, fisheries, tourism, coral reefs, and human health in the Pacific region; with agriculture production, such as taro, particularly vulnerable to the effect of climate change.[34] The Pacific countries are projected incur economic losses in the range of 4.6% to 12.7% of the region’s annual GDP equivalent by 2100, with the degree of severity changing with different CO2 emission scenarios.[35]

On 16 January 2014 Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga established the National Advisory Council on Climate Change, which functions are "to identify actions or strategies: to achieve energy efficiencies; to increase the use of renewable energy; to encourage the private sector and NGOs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; to ensure a whole of government response to adaptation and climate change related disaster risk reduction; and to encourage the private sector and NGOs to develop locally appropriate technologies for adaptation and climate change mitigation (reductions in [greenhouse gas]).”[36]

Tuvalu's role at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference[edit]

In December 2009 the islands stalled talks at United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, fearing some other developing countries were not committing fully to binding deals on a reduction in carbon emission, their chief negotiator stated "Tuvalu is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, and our future rests on the outcome of this meeting."[37] When the conference failed to reach a binding, meaningful agreement, Tuvalu's representative Ian Fry said, "It looks like we are being offered 30 pieces of silver to betray our people and our future... Our future is not for sale. I regret to inform you that Tuvalu cannot accept this document."[38]

Fry's speech to the conference was a highly impassioned plea for countries around the world to address the issues of man-made global warming resulting in climate change. The five-minute speech addressed the dangers of rising sea levels to Tuvalu and the world. In his speech Fry claimed man-made global warming to be currently "the greatest threat to humanity", and ended with an emotional "the fate of my country rests in your hands".[39]

Climate change leadership and the Majuro Declaration[edit]

In November 2011, Tuvalu was one of the eight founding members of Polynesian Leaders Group, a regional grouping intended to cooperate on a variety of issues including culture and language, education, responses to climate change, and trade and investment.[40][41][42] Tuvalu participates in the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), which is a coalition of small island and low-lying coastal countries that have concerns about their vulnerability to the adverse effects of global climate change.[43] The Sopoaga Ministry led by Enele Sopoaga made a commitment under the Majuro Declaration, which was signed on 5 September 2013, to implement power generation of 100% renewable energy (between 2013 and 2020). This commitment is proposed to be implemented using Solar PV (95% of demand) and biodiesel (5% of demand). The feasibility of wind power generation will be considered.[44]

Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak presented the Majuro Declaration to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during General Assembly Leaders’ week from 23 September 2013. The Majuro Declaration is offered as a “Pacific gift” to the UN Secretary-General in order to catalyze more ambitious climate action by world leaders beyond that achieved at the December 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15). On 29 September 2013 the Deputy Prime Minister Vete Sakaio concluded his speech to the General Debate of the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly with an appeal to the world, “please save Tuvalu against climate change. Save Tuvalu in order to save yourself, the world”.[45]

External links[edit]

News
Video

Filmography[edit]

Documentary films about climate change and Tuvalu:

  • Paradise Domain (2001) by Joost de Haas
  • The Disappearing of Tuvalu: Trouble in Paradise (2004) by Christopher Horner and Gilliane Le Gallic
  • Paradise Drowned: Tuvalu, the Disappearing Nation (2004) Written and produced by Wayne Tourell. Directed by Mike O'Connor, Savana Jones-Middleton and Wayne Tourell
  • Going Under (2004) by Franny Armstrong, Spanner Films
  • Before the Flood: Tuvalu (2005) by Paul Lindsay
  • Time and Tide (2005) by Julie Bayer and Josh Salzman
  • Tuvalu: That Sinking Feeling (2005) by Elizabeth Pollock from PBS Rough Cut
  • Atlantis Approaching (2006) by Elizabeth Pollock
  • King Tide | The Sinking of Tuvalu (2007) by Juriaan Booij
  • Tuvalu: Renewable Energy in the Pacific Islands Series (2012) a production of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and SPREP

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Tuvalu’s Views on the Possible Security Implications of Climate Change to be included in the report of the UN Secretary General to the UN General Assembly 64th Session". Retrieved 17 February 2012. 
  2. ^ "Tuvalu could lose root crop". Radio New Zealand. 17 September 2008. Retrieved 10 May 2010. 
  3. ^ "Leaflet No. 1 - Revised 1992 - Taro". Food and Agriculture Organization. Retrieved 10 May 2010. 
  4. ^ "SPREP". Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program. 2009. Retrieved 22 Oct 2011. 
  5. ^ "Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change Tuvalu Report of In-Country Consultations". Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP). 2009. Retrieved 13 Oct 2011. 
  6. ^ "Climate Change in the Pacific: Scientific Assessment and New Research". Pacific Climate Change Science Program (Australian Government). November 2011. Retrieved 30 Nov 2011. 
  7. ^ a b "Ch.2 Climate of the Western Tropical Pacific and East Timor". Climate Change in the Pacific: Volume 1: Regional Overview. Australia Government: Pacific Climate Change Science Program. 2011. p. 26. 
  8. ^ Kennedy Warne, "Dance of a Dangerous Sea", Canadian Geographic Magazine, October 2008, p. 58
  9. ^ Kennedy Warne, ibid, p. 61
  10. ^ a b Hunter, John R. (2002). "A Note on Relative Sea Level Change at Funafuti, Tuvalu". Antarctic Cooperative Research Centre. Retrieved 13 Oct 2011. 
  11. ^ Lewis, James (December 1989). "Sea level rise: Some implications for Tuvalu". The Environmentalist 9 (4): 269–275. doi:10.1007/BF02241827. 
  12. ^ "Tropical Cyclone Bebe". Retrieved 20 September 2011. 
  13. ^ Bureau of Meteorology (1975) Tropical Cyclones in the Northern Australian Regions 1971-1972 Australian Government Publishing Service
  14. ^ "Kogatapu Funafuti Conservation Area". Tuvaluislands.com. Retrieved 28 Oct 2011. 
  15. ^ Kench, Paul. "Dynamic atolls give hope that Pacific Islands can defy sea rise". The Conversation. Retrieved 16 April 2014. 
  16. ^ Arthur P. Webba & Paul S. Kench (2010). "The dynamic response of reef islands to sea-level rise: Evidence from multi-decadal analysis of island change in the Central Pacific". Global and Planetary Change 72 (3): 234–246. 
  17. ^ Kench, Paul. "Dynamic atolls give hope that Pacific Islands can defy sea rise (Comments)". The Conversation. Retrieved 16 April 2014. 
  18. ^ Baarsch, Florent (4 March 2011). "Warming oceans and human waste hit Tuvalu's sustainable way of life". The Guardian (London). 
  19. ^ a b Field, Michael (28 March 2002). "Global Warming Not Sinking Tuvalu - But Maybe Its Own People Are". Agence France-Presse. Retrieved 13 Oct 2011. 
  20. ^ Nakada S., Yamano H., Umezawa Y., Fujita M., Watanabe M., Taniguchi M. (2010). "Evaluation of Aquifer Salinization in the Atoll Islands by Using Electrical Resistivity". 30 (5) Journal of the Remote Sensing Society of Japan. pp. 317–330. Retrieved 5 May 2013. 
  21. ^ Nakada, S.; Umezawa, Y.; Taniguchi, M.; Yamano, H. (2012). "Groundwater Dynamics of Fongafale Islet, Funafuti Atoll, Tuvalu". Ground Water 50 (4): 639–644. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6584.2011.00874.x. PMID 22035506.  edit
  22. ^ Dr Vincent Gray (15 June 2006). "The Truth about Tuvalu". Retrieved 13 Oct 2011. 
  23. ^ de Freitas, Chris (11 December 2013). "Human interference real threat to Pacific atolls". Islands Business from NZ HERALD/PACNEWS. Retrieved 12 December 2013. 
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Ch.15 Tuvalu". Climate Change in the Pacific: Volume 2: Country Reports. Australia Government: Pacific Climate Change Science Program. 2011. 
  25. ^ Laafai, Monise (October 2005). "Funafuti King Tides". Retrieved 14 Oct 2011. 
  26. ^ "Global Warming". The Luaseuta Foundation. Retrieved 14 Oct 2011. 
  27. ^ Mason, Moya K. "Tuvalu: Flooding, Global Warming, and Media Coverage". Retrieved 13 Oct 2011. 
  28. ^ Dekker, Rodney (9 December 2011). "Island neighbours at the mercy of rising tides". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 9 Dec 2011. 
  29. ^ Holowaty Krales, Amelia (20 February 2011). "Chasing the Tides, parts I & II". Retrieved 20 November 2012. 
  30. ^ "Tuvalu’s National Adaptation Programme of Action - Under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change". Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment, Agriculture and Lands - Department of Environment. May 2007. Retrieved 24 Oct 2011. 
  31. ^ Tuvalu’s National Adaptation Programme of Action http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/napa/tuv01.pdf
  32. ^ "Tiny Tuvalu says all its energy renewable by 2020". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2009-07-20. 
  33. ^ "Relocation for climate change victims is no answer, says Tuvalu PM". Radio New Zealand International. 3 September 2013. Retrieved 3 September 2013. 
  34. ^ Dr. Xianbin Yao & Dr. Cyn-Young Park (November 2013). "The Economics of Climate Change in the Pacific". Asian Development Bank. Retrieved 9 January 2014. 
  35. ^ Dr. Xianbin Yao & Dr. Cyn-Young Park (December 2013). "The cost of climate change in the Pacific". Island Business. Retrieved 9 January 2014. 
  36. ^ Lalua, Silafaga (22 January 2014). "National Advisory Council on Climate Change launched in Tuvalu". Islands Business – From FENUI NEWS/PACNEWS. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  37. ^ "Island's tough climate plea denied". BBC News. 2009-12-09. Retrieved 2010-04-30. 
  38. ^ Future not for sale: climate deal rejected
  39. ^ YouTube video of Fry's speech, accessed 2011-03-10
  40. ^ "NZ may be invited to join proposed ‘Polynesian Triangle’ ginger group", Pacific Scoop, 19 September 2011
  41. ^ "New Polynesian Leaders Group formed in Samoa", Radio New Zealand International, 18 November 2011
  42. ^ "American Samoa joins Polynesian Leaders Group, MOU signed", Savali, 19 November 2011
  43. ^ Komai, Makereta (5 September 2013). 05 Sep 2013 "Tuvalu ready to support Marshall Islands in climate change leadership". Islands Business. Retrieved 7 September 2013. 
  44. ^ "Majuro Declaration: For Climate Leadership". Pacific Islands Forum. 5 September 2013. Retrieved 7 September 2013. 
  45. ^ "Statement Presented by Deputy Prime Minister Honourable Vete Palakua Sakaio". 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly - General Debate. 28 September 2013. Retrieved 4 November 2013.