A completely blue screen, dotted with some tiny dots. That’s the result when you search Tuvalu on Google Maps. The country is made up of nine islands, in the middle of the Pacific, and has a population smaller than many Brazilian neighborhoods: it does not reach 12 a thousand inhabitants, who are in the frontline of the climate crisis.
This archipelago, formed over millions of years by corals and volcanic eruptions, is, on average, less than 2 meters above the level of the sea. It’s a place that could disappear if the world doesn’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions, causing sea levels to rise and scientists’ most catastrophic predictions come true.
“I want my culture to be maintained. I want my language to survive. I want my children to grow up there. I don’t want them to migrate to other places because Tuvalu is my home,” says young activist Bernard Ewekia, 25. He, who prefers to be called Kato, is part of Fridays for Future, a worldwide movement led by the Swedish Greta Thunberg.
“We are suffering from climate change right now, every Every day we see the advance of the sea level that reaches below the earth”, he says.
In addition to the erosion on the beaches, which make the islands grow smaller, the ocean also invades the mainland from the subsoil. This causes flooding and rots crops, which cannot withstand salt water. With an economy based on fishing and subsistence agriculture, the waves can also take away the way of life of these people.
To open up this situation, the country’s foreign minister, Simon Kofe, spoke from a platform in the sea. The recording of the speech was shown in November at the COP26, the UN climate conference (United Nations).
“We cannot wait for speeches when the sea level is rising around us all the time,” he said. “We’re sinking, but so is everyone else.”
Tuvalu is not the only potential victim of the advancing oceans. “There are many island countries —mostly in the Pacific, but also in the Caribbean— where a sea level rise of, say, 1.7 to 2 meters could make the country disappear altogether, because they are relatively shallow and small islands, or that life becomes absolutely unviable, basically making a nation disappear completely”, explains the professor at the USP Physics Institute, Paulo Artaxo, who is part of the UN’s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).
The sea level rises for two reasons: the first is the expansion of the water, which gains more volume as the planet and oceans warm up. The other cause is the melting of continental glaciers.
“The ice that is stored in the Andes, Himalayas or Greenland, when it melts, it drains into the ocean and increases the level of the sea significantly”, points out the researcher. This is an irreversible phenomenon: once a cubic kilometer of Greenland ice melts, there is no way known to science to freeze that water back to where it came from.
According to Artaxo, the sea has risen, on average, 12 centimeters since the beginning of the last century. Which may seem like little, but that rate is accelerating. “Today, we already have an increase in the order of three to four centimeters every decade, which is a lot.” and of intensity, including destroying infrastructure in coastal areas, as we see in the states of Rio de Janeiro and Pernambuco. There are huge areas that are being destroyed by the increase in large storms associated with the sea,” he says.
The Philippines is currently the fourth most vulnerable country to the climate crisis, according to a ranking by the NGO Germanwatch. The capital, Manila, a city of 1.7 million people, could disappear in 30 years because of rising sea levels.
“Just being afraid of drowning in my own room is climate anxiety and a trauma that no one should experience,” says Filipino activist Mitzi Jonelle Tan. “No one should grow up in a world where you are afraid of not having a future.” are developing countries, which do not have enough money to deal with the size of the damage.
“The lack of economic capacity is a factor of vulnerability, because it means that the country does not there will be urban and civil infrastructure to contain extreme weather events”, says environmental lawyer Caroline Prolo, one of the negotiators representing the least developed countries at the UN.
She explains that this ends up being a brake on the development of these nations and gives Haiti as an example. “There’s no time, often, recover from such an event and already have another one happening. So, a problem with these countries is that they are always having to rebuild themselves from these phenomena”.
An agreement signed at the COP25, in Glasgow, determined that the fund for adaptation to climate change will be doubled. This was considered one of the main advances of this edition of the conference – even though funding is a long, bureaucratic and complicated process.
One of these places that asks for international help is the Seychelles Islands, off the East African coast. The country is formed by 115 islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean and the landscape is exactly that which usually gets the definition of paradise: tropical, exotic, with white sand beaches and transparent waters.
This is what Elissa Lalande, analyst at the Climate Change and Energy Department, told us. Seychelles government. It’s not just Seychelles who thinks the place is a paradise. Tourism is the main economic activity in the country, responsible for almost 25% of the product. the rough inland.
These travelers go in search of the beaches —which are being lost to coastal erosion.
To try to contain the advance of the sea and prevent the country from continuing to shrink, one strategy is to surround the beaches with huge stones. Which, of course, affects the paradise landscape. “[As pedras] are not pleasing to the eye. Some tourists say ‘This is an atrocity,’ but we’re losing our beaches, so what’s the alternative?”, he asks.
This is not the only effect of the climate crisis that is already hitting the Seychelles. Fish are also decreasing in size and quantity, which impacts yet another important economic sector, the fishing industry.
Artaxo says that, in a future with no reduction in gas emissions, greenhouse effect and the planet warms 4° C, the sea level can increase 12 meters until the year 2300. “So, you can imagine beaches like Copacabana and Ipanema with sea level on the second floor of the buildings. This is the scenario that we have to avoid at all costs”.