Coconut people's identity: Threat of climate change and sea level rise

Coconut people's identity: Threat of climate change and sea level rise

Tapugao FALEFOU (Tuvalu)

University of Waikato, New Zealand

Climate change and sea level rise is the most profound threat that we, the people of low-lying atoll states, have ever experienced since time immemorial. Scientific findings about global warming and its impacts have not only been heard by us but we are experiencing and seeing them happening with our own eyes. We are living with them and trying to cope with them day in and day out. Sea level rise is threatening our very existence and its impacts such as acute coastal erosion and water inundation causing salinity to our ground water are already taking place. As a sovereign state, the projected increase in the level of the sea means that sooner or later Tuvalu will be swallowed by the great Pacific Ocean and therefore our national and cultural identity would be extinguished forever. My presentation will be framed around the rootedness and mobility of Pacific people and how climate change and sea level rise would impact on their lives and livelihoods. As reflected in the title of my presentation, I will first explain what I mean by 'coconut people'. I will then talk about the rootedness of the coconut to the ground as a metaphor of people's connectedness to their land/country. Similarly, I will explain the mobile nature of the coconut fruit that can drift and establish in other places to hypothetically explain Pacific people's nature of movement from place to place. Lastly, I will talk about the impact of climate change and sea level rise on the coconut symbolizing similar impacts upon the people of the Pacific, particularly Tuvaluans, who rely on coconuts in their daily lives. My presentation will draw in real life examples of climate change impacts on coconuts in Tuvalu and likewise on the lives of many people in Tuvalu.



Tapugao Falefou is a Tuvaluan student at the University of Waikato in New Zealand. He is undertaking PhD studies on climate change focusing on the impacts of climate change and sea level rise on national and cultural identities of low-lying countries such as Tuvalu. Mr Falefou’s interest in this aspect of climate change has culminated from the various climate change conferences and meetings where he represented the Government of Tuvalu around the Pacific region and beyond. Moreover, his decision, which finally resulted in him taking study leave, emanated from the formulation of Tuvalu's first ever-comprehensive Climate Change Policy in 2011-2012. As head of the core team responsible for the formulation process of the Tuvalu Climate Change Policy, he led a nation-wide consultation around the country to discuss and dialogue with people about all related climate change issues. It was during this process that he personally saw the need to take research work on the impact of this phenomenon on Tuvalu’s national and cultural identity; an issue he realized that people were very concerned and worried about. Presenting his research findings in this conference is a great opportunity for the international community to hear the voice of the indigenous people of Tuvalu about the impacts of climate change to their lives, livelihoods and the survival of their national and cultural identities.

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