Tuvalu wields state-of-the-art new data in the fight against climate change

Surprisingly, until now, detailed and accurate measurement of land height has not existed for the majority of atoll islands in the Pacific region, a crucial missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to understanding — and responding to — sea level rise. Now, new data collected via state-of-the-art LIDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging, technology, sheds a light on the challenges in one of the world’s most threatened nations — Tuvalu, with implications for other small island developing states around the world.

It has been said that climate change poses an existential threat to some small island states. To some, this sounds alarmist, yet it is not far-fetched. Scientists have estimated that Tuvalu and others may become largely uninhabitable by the end of the century. © Aurélia Rusek/UNDP
Made up of low-lying islands and atolls, Tuvalu is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to the effects of a warming planet. Nanumaga island (right), Nanumea island (left) © Puanita Taomia Ewekia/TCAP-UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji
UN Secretary-General António Guterres walks on the beach as children play in the ocean. Guterres visited the country as part of a Pacific trip to spotlight the issue of climate change ahead of the global Climate Action Summit in September 2019. © UN Photo/Mark Garten
LIDAR digital elevation model of Nanumaga island, Tuvalu, 2019 © TCAP
Fogafale was hard hit by Cyclone Tino, January 2020 © Puanita Taomia Ewekia/TCAP-UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji
  • The Government has integrated the data into its national recovery and vulnerability reduction plan for Tropical Cyclone Tino, which by official estimates severely affected more than half the population last January and led to a State of Emergency.
  • The data will be incorporated into navigation charts, crucial for safe ship operations and trade (presently there are no updated charts for Tuvalu since the mid 1980s).
  • Tuvalu’s Department of Lands and Survey is using the data as its baseline for planning and has also incorporated it into its maritime boundaries work.
  • The UNDP-supported Ridge2Reef project is drawing on the data to support reef conservation work.
  • A World Bank-backed project improving the climate resilience of Nanumaga’s harbour and Funafuti’s port is looking at using the data in their risk modelling around the impacts of storm surges.
Mr. Faatasi Malologa, Director of Tuvalu’s Department of Lands and Survey with Alan Resture, TCAp Project Manager Puanita Taomia Ewekia/TCAP-UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji
Enele Sosene Sopoaga, former Prime Minister of Tuvalu, signs the Paris Agreement at the United Nations in New York, 22 April 2016 © UN Photo/Amanda Voisard
Tuvalu’s Prime Minister and Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, Hon. Kausea Natano, has vowed to continue the country’s climate change advocacy. © SRPEP
The main square of Nui Island, one month after Cyclone Pam created huge waves that caused widespread destruction in Tuvalu. March 2015 © Silke von Brockhausen/UNDP

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