Simon Kofe, the foreign minister of Tuvalu, said the country was planning for the “worst case scenario” and looking into keeping the ownership of its maritime zones.
“We’re actually imagining a worst-case scenario where we are forced to relocate or our lands are submerged,” he told Reuters on Thursday.
Pacific island nations are at the forefront of bearing the brunt of the climate crisis as extreme weather events spike and sea levels rise. Many island nations, including Tuvalu and Kiribati, have already lost land to increased water levels.
“We’re looking at legal avenues where we can retain our ownership of our maritime zones, retain our recognition as a state under international law. So those are steps that we are taking, looking into the future,” Mr Kofe said.
Earlier this week, in order to emphasise the impact of climate change on the island nation at the Cop26 summit, Mr Kofe delivered a video address standing in knee-deep water on an area of land that had been recently submerged due to rising water levels.
Images and videos of Mr Kofe standing in a suit at a lectern set up in the sea with his trousers rolled up have been shared widely on social media.
Reacting to the response to the video, Mr Kofe said: “We didn’t think it would go viral as we saw over the last few days.
“We have been very pleased with that and hopefully that carries the message and emphasises the challenges that we are facing in Tuvalu at the moment,” he added.
Tuvalu is at the risk of becoming one of the first nations to be significantly impacted by rising sea levels due to global climate change. The average height of its islands is less than 2m (6.6ft) above sea level and its highest point is about 4.6m (15 ft) above sea level.
The nation consists of nine islands in the Pacific region and has a population of some 11,000 people. It has been witnessing an average of 0.5cm rise in sea levels every year for the last 28 years, which is taking up its land area.
Tuvalu’s leaders have earlier also said that vacating the land in case of extreme weather will be their last resort. Mr Kofe also stressed that the older generation of the island nation want to go down with the land. “The one thing clear is that the people have a very close tie to their land,” Mr Kofe said.
Additional reporting by agencies