Skip to main content

Born Today, Adrift Tomorrow in Tuvalu

Imagine being born today in the South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, half way between Hawaii and New Zealand.

You join a community of 12,000 people with a unique culture, language and traditions for sustainable fishing and farming developed over thousands of years. Your country consists of nine small islands covering just 26 square kilometers and averaging only three meters above sea level. Because soils are poor and there is no surface fresh water, your family depends on rain and a thin layer of ground water to grow taro, coconut, bananas and breadfruit.

By the time you are ready to have children of your own, climate change may have made life in your island home nearly impossible.

Basic human rights, including the rights to food, water and adequate housing, will be increasingly unattainable. Your family--indeed all your fellow citizens--may have no choice but to join millions of people around the world seeking asylum in foreign countries as "climate change refugees." Your generation could be the last to live in Tuvalu.

Climate scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predict that Tuvalu will be among the small island nations hardest hit this century by sea level rise, salt-water inundation, coral reef death, droughts, cyclones, rising temperatures, and food and water shortages. Already, relatively minor sea level rise over the past decade is causing high-tide flooding, salinization of soils and destruction of infrastructure across Tuvalu. People are already leaving.

Earthjustice is now lobbying in United Nations forums, including Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, for governments to recognize that basic human rights are threatened by climate change, and that many of the hardest-hit nations, including Tuvalu, are not responsible for that change.

This spring, Earthjustice’s Permanent Representative to the U.N., Yves Lador, addressed the Human Rights Council on how climate change threatens the human rights of the citizens of Tuvalu.

"We see here a clear responsibility for the international community, to "do no harm"," Mr. Lador said. "The fate of Tuvalu illustrates very well how climate change mitigation measures are also a direct contribution to the prevention of human rights violations. We therefore call on the Council to consider the whole range of measures which are needed to make it possible for Tuvalu to protect the human rights of its people." (To see video of Yves’ presentation click here and scroll to Tuvalu/Stakeholders/Earthjustice.)

Tuvalu is the first small island nation to go through the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review. In response to an Earthjustice submission on climate change and human rights in Tuvalu, the government of Tuvalu accepted recommendations that called for it to work with the international community to secure significant global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Mr. Enele Sopoaga, head of the Tuvalu delegation, said time was running out for the international community, and hoped that urgent measures would be taken to lower greenhouse emissions and develop technologies to adapt to climate change.

Earthjustice has also submitted comments to the Human Rights Council on how climate change threatens the human rights of citizens of the small island nations of Vanuatu and Comoros.