Climate crisis, pandemic, market isolation keeping Tuvalu on LDC list says PM Natano


Tuvalu Prime Minister Kausea Natano has asked a global conference on the world’s least developed countries for indexing that highlights vulnerability to climate as a part of assessing graduation from the list.

He shared that ask along with updates on his nation’s new climate adaptation plan, called Te Lafiga, at the 5th UN conference for Least Developed Countries, in Doha this week. Living with climate impacts has been a key part of the Tuvalu statement from its leader at this meeting, and the outlook for more severe climate realities will likely continue to be a key factor keeping Tuvalu on the global list of Least Developed Countries.

In his statement to the plenary session, the Prime Minister presented Tuvalu’s existing challenges and impacts of economic and social crises, natural disasters and pandemics as a key consideration for a rethink on the criteria used for graduating least developed countries.

He noted the impact of the global pandemic on economic growth, with resources redirected to the health sector, resulting in countless interruptions on development initiatives. Gross National Income measures are one of the three UN criteria measures for the eligibility of LDC countries to graduation but PM Natano said the GNI measure “does not fully reflect the reality of problems and challenges that Tuvalu faces, such as aid fragmentation. The accessibility of Tuvalu to international funds and donor funded programmes are to be properly analyzed, so as to capture the true picture of the current aid situation in Tuvalu.”

He said according to the current assessments, the only criterion that Tuvalu does not meet is the Economic Vulnerability Index, or EVI. “Given Tuvalu’s many development challenges, graduating from LDC status will put a further burden on the country’s development efforts and can hinder achievement of its National Development Goals as well as SDGs,” the Prime Minister said.

He said a key concern for Tuvalu is that graduation will result in the withdrawal of LDC-specific international support, “which includes modalities and access to certain concessional finance instruments and preferential market access for exports and allocation of aid and climate finance.”

Prime Minister Natano stressed the need “to include the EVI as one of the two mandatory indexes to be considered for graduating indicators” and suggested that more indexes that can capture vulnerabilities of SIDs against Climate Change effects be added.

“The reality of SIDs constantly facing cyclones, droughts, outbreaks of diseases are not fully captured in these EVI indicators. In 2022, Tuvalu faced a prolonged drought that lasted for months and its impacts are experienced through the recent outbreak of Dengue and Typhoid.”

He shared his gratitude to the people of Tuvalu “for their never-ending resilience against the various economic, environmental and social crises that we face. Though numbers may convey a different image of Tuvalu’s vulnerability, the reality we face on a daily basis is not reflected in the three criteria (income per capita, human assets and economic and environmental vulnerability). We remain confident that the council will proceed to defer Tuvalu’s graduation due to factors beyond the graduation criteria.”

Tuvalu is the only Pacific LDC not yet scheduled for review. Samoa graduated from LDC status in 2014, and Vanuatu is the most recently graduated LDC (December 2020). The Solomon Islands, supported by the Pacific Islands Forum in its quest to defer its 2024 graduation date, has high hopes of a three year extension. Timing for Kiribati is likely to be discussed in a review meeting by ECOSOC in 2024.

He said the slow recovery for Tuvalu and other countries dealing with impacts of COVID19 is compounded by “the pain of the war in East Europe,” with surging fuel prices, disruptions in shipping and lost investment for the Tuvalu Trust Fund.

On opportunities in digital trade, he said the geographical isolation of Tuvalu from the international market creates a barrier for trading and service delivery. “Emerging technologies and the rapid growth of ICT has proved to bring about efficiency and new opportunities for the Government and people of Tuvalu. Increased internet coverage for the outer islands will improve service quality and reduce service delivery and business costs,” he said.

In its efforts to combat Climate Change, Tuvalu is developing a Long-term Adaptation plan called Te Lafiga. Informed by science, experience and best practice. Te Lafiga builds on the ‘save Tuvalu, save the world’ message and aims to accommodate the entire population safely against worst case sea level rise scenarios beyond 2100; to offer solutions to pre-existing development and resource constraint issues that have remained difficult to resolve over the decades; and to offer hope for the future of Tuvalu and Tuvaluans.

“In addition, Tuvalu together with the Government of Antigua and Barbuda established the Commission of Small Island States that will focus on promoting international law principles that hold states responsible for climate change impacts affecting the marine environment,” PM Natano shared.

He also shared on the Rising Nations Initiative launched by Tuvalu to press forward efforts towards protecting the statehood of Pacific Atoll countries, preserving their sovereignty and safeguarding the rights and heritage of affected populations.

The nation has also led another initiative in partnership with the Government of Vanuatu, the Global Just Transition away from fossil fuels, encouraging countries to publicly support the global call for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty and join the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance.

Speaking to the 2030 agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals, PM Natano noted Tuvalu’s first Voluntary National Review Report in July 2022, as “a significant milestone that is timely with our effort to achieve the SDG 2030 Agenda. The incorporation of the SDGs in our National Monitoring Framework is eminent, with the assistance of the SDG Indicator Tracking Tool that will enable us to accurately track the progress of achieving the 2030 Agenda”.