Pacific Island countries fight to ensure future before rising sea levels swallow them up

© Leon Lord, AFP

Although they contribute less than 0.03% of the world’s total carbon emissions, the Pacific Islands are at the front line of the climate crisis. Entire countries could be submerged under water within the next two to three decades. How are these island states fighting for their survival?

A country is more than its land. A country is its people, its nature, its culture, its traditions, its history and its ability to self-govern as a nation. But without sovereign territory to stand on, can a country continue to exist?

This is the once unthinkable question some Pacific Island nations are having to face. Due to disasters brought on by climate change, entire countries in the Pacific will soon become uninhabitable. Several are destined to become completely submerged by the end of the century. Even if the world manages to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, atoll nations like Tuvalu or Kiribati face certain inundation.

Pacific Islands are at the front line of the climate crisis, despite having contributed less than 0.03% of the world’s total carbon emissions. And to circumvent calamitous conditions brought on by climate change, they are taking desperate measures to safeguard their existence.

A country with no territory

Tuvalu also plans to move its administrative and governance systems online. But can it practice sovereignty on virtual land? For Nick Kelly and Marcus Foth, professors at the Queensland University of Technology, the answer is yes and no.

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