Brussels, 20 July 2015/ ACP: The Prime Minister of Tuvalu Hon. Enele Sosene Sopoaga visited the ACP Secretary General H.E Dr. Patrick Gomes in Brussels during his European tour in early July to promote awareness on climate change issues. As one of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, the Tuvalu Government has been heavily involved in working towards a successful outcome in the COP21 international conference scheduled for December 2015. The ACP Group also places a high priority on climate change issues, as shown in Intra-ACP programming exercises and planned set up of a SIDS forum which will also address the challenges.

The Prime Minister Sopoaga was able to share some insights with the ACP Press Office on 7th July 2015. (Interview transcript below).


ACP Press: Prime Minster Sopoaga we thank you very much for this privilege to be here with us to share some information about why you are here in Europe. Please tell us what is the key message you are trying to communicate during this tour and why is it so important?

Hon. Enele Sosene Sopoaga: It is so critically important because it is a matter of urgency. The situation created by the impacts of climate change and sea level rise is urgent, is dire and we need an urgent response. The message is simple: Save Tuvalu and save the world. We cannot save the world without saving Tuvalu and those island countries, those most vulnerable island countries, [as well as] other countries that are at the forefront of the impacts of climate change. You need to look at actions both in mitigation – reducing emissions – and also adaptation, to save these people who are at the forefront of the impacts of climate change. Of course when you deal with this, you save the world at the same time.

ACPP: Can you tell us some examples of these climate change effects that you see on the ground?

ESS: Already we are having very frequent visits of tropical cyclones. For example this year in March we had tropical cyclone Pam that hit the islands of the Pacific, particularly Vanuatu, and left a lot of devastation, but also equally in the Solomons Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands.

For the case of Tuvalu, Cyclone Pam left practically all the islands of Tuvalu seriously battered and seriously injured. Three islands are now still without stable food crops. They have to rely on the Government to provide supplies of food and water because their food sources on the island have been completely destroyed by salty water, debris and waste. So you see the situation on the islands is serious, is dire, as I was saying… It affects not only food security, but also water, and also health-wise in terms of sanitation and waste. You have to take these into account and that’s why we believe that these events are no longer natural. They are heavily and strongly influenced by climate change.

The message that I’m bringing to Europe this time is help is: Please save Tuvalu. The actions that we put in place to save these vulnerable islands will also be the basis of saving the world. We may be the first to feel the brunt of the impacts of climate change, but the whole world are bound to feel these impacts if nothing is done urgently. That’s the message.

ACPP: And what has been the response so far from the international community to this very passionate call for help?

ESS: I’m optimistic and I appreciate it. We are appreciative. We cannot say that there has been no positive response from the international community because there has been a lot of positive support. There are differences of course in interpretations and understandings of the application of the science of climate change and the economics of climate change. But we appreciate what generally has been the response – the European Union for example has been very very understanding and [forthcoming] in terms of working with Pacific island countries, with the ACPs and also with the Small Island Developing States and LDCs (Least Developed Countries). I think this contribution ought to be appreciated and taken into account. Also, other parties, bilateral friends have been very constructive. As a country on the forefront, things are very well appreciated by Tuvalu.

I spoke at the Vatican three days ago at a Summit convened by the Holy See on this question, this response to the letter issued by Pope Francis [papal encyclical issued 18 June]. I’m very encouraged by the Pope’s message to the world that this is our home, and we have to be more responsible to look after our home, including addressing the impacts of climate change and sea level rise.

I think this is a very timely reminder and a challenge as well to us leaders of the world, to people of the world, to bring in a human face to the issue of climate change. Because the debate so far has been overwhelmed and dominated mainly by the politics, the science and economics of climate change – [issues such as] technology, business, saving industries, saving economies. It’s not about saving economies, it’s about saving lives of the people that are most vulnerable, like Tuvalu. That’s our message as well and we are in full support and agreement with the letter that Pope Francis issued and circulated to the world community. We are taking advantage of this.

My coming to Brussels is an extension of that visit to the Vatican but also [it was also] to seek the support of the European Union and friends in Brussels to help us to recover our people from the damages from Cyclone Pam and build resilience in the long term for Tuvalu so that it can face the impacts of climate change in the future. We are talking about building protection like sea walls, and coastal protection for the islands of Tuvalu.

ACPP: A lot of the global attention right now is looking at the upcoming international conference on climate change in Paris this December. What do you expect from this COP21 meeting and what do you want out of this meeting?

ESS: There is no fallback position on climate change. We have to have a legally binding agreement in Paris Cop 21. There is no other alternative. We want to make sure that the COP21 Conference is a success, and success can only be that the causes of climate change be properly addressed. Urgent reduction of emissions and green houses gases into the atmosphere – we must work on that.

And we have options. Technologically and scientifically we have options. We have to look seriously at a more friendly energy pathway for the world and renewable energy has been identified as a very very useful option for that. Things are doable. I think businesses will find that this pathway will also work for them – for everybody – and will benefit everybody… There are many many reviews and analyses that have confirmed that view that business will flourish even under the renewable energy pathway.

On adaptation, of course we need to make sure the Paris Agreement comes up with a concrete commitment to adaptation to help those countries at the forefront like Tuvalu and many SIDS and LDCs cope with the impacts of climate change. Both [mitigation and adaptation measures] have to be pursued and advanced in balance. With little mitigation you get more adaption – people will be forced to adapt more. You have to keep this up and they must be provided equally and as adequately as possible with financing capacity and technological development… From the point of view of Tuvalu, we want to believe we can achieve success out of Paris.

ACPP: Finally, where do you see the role of international groupings or alliances such as the ACP Group, which has 37 members that are SIDS who grapple with the effects of climate change? How can such alliances or friendships help the people of Tuvalu in this fight?

ESS: I think we have to strategise, and we know exactly that in this type of international engagements, leverage is the name of the game. Of course you cannot on your own fix all the problems of the world. You have to leverage, you have to use your political grouping, and dialogue, connect and coordinate with likeminded alliances and organisations.

Besides the ACP, you have the Commonwealth of Nations. A number of ACP members are also members of the Commonwealth and they have their own platforms, they have their own status, on which we can stand together. You have the SIDS that are working under the AOSIS [Alliance of Small Island States] as a format for advocacy – all these things will need to be strategised properly so that you work with one voice trying to advocate and trying to aspire for common outcomes in Paris.

If we break up and get divided, we fall, we will not win. But if we use our groupings our alliances, to leverage some of our connections with the European Union, with the Commonwealth, based on shared goals and objectives, and particularly with the United Nations, I think we can achieve lot. And I think we must do that – that’s the only way to move forward. These challenges are too huge for us to go on our own. We are insignificant at this level and that’s why we know as we do in Tuvalu – if we have to catch a big whale, you have to stick together. If you have fish, small fish will form a very big pack and the whale and shark will get frightened by these small fish. We must use that type of tactic and I certainly hope we can do that on the way to Paris and in Paris. Because the alternative will be chaos.

– ACP Press

(Photo: Prime Minister of Tuvalu with ACP Secretary General Dr. Patrick Gomes)