Lowest people on earth have highest priorities from COP15 talks

Published December 17, 2009

CopenhagenTuvalu people are as low as you can get.They are also out of sight on world maps as they belong to such a tiny country, which is, however, a glaring example of the looming danger of climate change. Tuvalu national, the Rev. Tofiga Falani, is in Copenhagen for the United Nations climate conference, and when he opens his arms the length of the span represents the highest point above sea level in Tuvalu.”There is no place higher than four feet [just over one metre] above sea level in Tuvalu,” Falani tells journalists. He speaks quietly, describing the issue of climate change being dealt with by most of the world’s leaders in the Danish capital as “a sensitive issue”.”Tuvalu means eight,” he explains. “It is a cluster of eight coral atolls – small islands clustered together that make up a population of about 12 000 people on these low lying atolls.”Next to him, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu shakes his head with concern.”Whatever the consequences, this issue is caused by the developed countries, and we are going to be affected,” says Falani. His message to the powerful nations is, “Please be heedful. There are people living on those low lying atolls. Whatever kinds of development you do, please heed us.”At 26 square kilometres, Tuvalu is the world’s fourth smallest country, bigger only than the Vatican City (0.44 square kilometres), Monaco (1.95 square kilometres) and Nauru (21 square kilometres).Falani is the head of the largest non-governmental organisation in his country as president of  the Christian Church of Tuvalu (Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu or the EKT), so he engages with the leaders and the people at every level. He tells Ecumenical News International his message is simple and clear, “Don’t give up on us.” The pastor is part of an ecumenical delegation led by the World Council of Churches campaigning at the COP15 talks from December 8 to 18.”Whoever are the culprits, we want to say that whether we are on Tuvalu, Kiribati or the Marshall Islands, we want to survive,” says Falani referring to other people in the atolls.When an ENI news reporter visited the island of Tuvalu in 2008, Falani said, “My country is on the frontline of climate change, and the evidence is before our eyes. We may be small – a peanut to a rich nation – but I am so thankful for God who gave us these small islands to call our home.” He noted, “Words can’t explain it, but I am so thankful to God for this 26 square kilometres and I don’t want to be forced by another power to leave this place.”Tuvalu’s environment minister, Tavau Teii, said at the time his nation and the world thought they had 50 years to save Tuvalu, but he noted, “recent research from the University of the South Pacific now informs us that we now only have 30.” Evidence of the seriousness of the situation was shown by once-large coconut trees washed into lagoons, not by waves but by tides.It took Falani two days to travel to Copenhagen from the South Pacific atolls of Tuvalu via Fiji, New Zealand, the United States and United Kingdom. He said he and the Tuvalu people are  praying the trip was worth the effort.


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