Financing a sustainable future
Seve Paeniu’s extensive career began in 1988 as an Assistant Planning Officer in Tuvalu's Ministry of Finance, before he quickly ascended to the role of Director of Planning the following year. In 2006, he represented Tuvalu as the High Commissioner to Fiji. He has extensive experience in working with regional and international organizations such as SPREP, PIFS, UNDP, and UNESCAP. Before his appointment as Minister of Finance in 2019, Seve led the Secretariat of the Oceania Customs Organisation (OCO).
Summer is in full swing, and as the Minister of Finance and the person responsible for responding to climate change for the government of Tuvalu, I find myself contemplating the beauty and uniqueness of our country. Nestled in the heart of the Pacific Ocean, our island is a beacon of rich cultural heritage and communal harmony, a place where every ripple in the water tells a story of unity and collective love for our homeland.
Tuvalu is more than just a dot on the map; it’s a close-knit community of loving and peaceful people, each island within our territory telling its own unique story, sharing its dialect, and celebrating its cultural festivities. It’s the spirit of togetherness, the joy of shared celebrations, and the willingness to extend a helping hand that truly defines our way of life.
We thrive among our families and fellow islanders, cherishing the bonds that bind us together, bonds that are the bedrock of our society. Our culture is the thread that weaves through our community-based society, where every neighbor is a friend, every friend is family, and every family is a treasure trove of shared experiences and mutual respect. Tuvalu is a land where individualistic living gives way to shared joys and sorrows alike.
In my role, I oversee the coordination of our national development strategic planning, focusing on the development aspirations and visions that will guide Tuvalu into the next decade. The journey is fraught with challenges, but it’s our shared mission that keeps us grounded.
Our land adaptation vision is our beacon of hope, our comprehensive approach to dealing with the multifaceted impacts of climate change on Tuvalu. We are determined to build more land and build upwards as a strategy to protect and save Tuvalu.
A new full-size airport and runway will be the wings that propel us into our future, a harbinger of economic growth through tourism and trade. We envision this runway doubling as a water catchment area, inspired by proven models in similar Atoll nations like the Marshall Islands.
A new major port will be the anchor of our land reclamation plan, acting as a gateway for larger container ships and economic development. The reclaimed land is the canvas of our development dreams, the space for renewable energy, homes, and various development programs, the shelter for our population against the rising seas. Water, the essence of life on earth, is our most precious commodity, a gift from the skies that we cherish and preserve with every drop. To combat water scarcity and to secure our water supply, we are expanding our water catchment tools, utilizing the roofs of buildings, gutters, and reservoirs. It’s a journey illuminated by solar energy, a step away from the shackles of diesel-powered electricity.
Living between the waves and the winds, I’ve witnessed the erosion of our lands, signs of the constant struggle against the rising seas, and the pernicious surges of high tides, the silent cries of droughts, and the turbulent fury of cyclones. The winds that embrace our islands also carry the telltale signs of climate change.
Our lands, barely two meters above sea level, bear the brunt of rising tides and relentless storm surges. Every wave that brushes our shores, every tide that infiltrates our soil, is a stark reminder of both our vulnerability and our resilience.
Our journey is a moral one. We, the people of Tuvalu, along with other small island states, are living on the frontlines of climate change and face its devastating impacts head-on, impacts we did not cause.
Our coastal adaptation project, funded by the Green Climate Fund, is a guiding light, demonstrating the possibility of large-scale land reclamation and elevation to adapt to and address the impacts of rising sea levels. It’s a vision of a resilient Tuvalu standing tall in the face of challenges. As I introduce myself in my native language, I share a proverb that resonates with the conversation on climate change: ‘Te Lafiga’, the refuge, the savior, someone who would protect us going forward. It is the title of our long-term adaptation vision because it represents our refuge from the calamity of climate change and sea level rise.
As I sit in my office on Funafuti, the capital island of Tuvalu, I am imbued with a sense of profound responsibility and unwavering commitment to our shared vision. We are the guardians of our communal bonds, the stewards of our environment, and the advocates of our future. The winds of change are the bearers of hope, resilience, and unity.
It’s our shared journey, our collective endeavors, and our unified voice that will navigate the tides of time and ensure that Tuvalu’s legacy continues to flourish in harmony with our ever-changing world.
This column appears in ISSUE 33: VANISHING SHORES of Oceanographic Magazine
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