A number of significant amendments to Tuvalu’s Constitution have been proposed by the Constitution Review Parliamentary Select Committee.
Amongst the 26 proposed changes, the Committee wants to amend Section 2 of the Constitution that refers to the ‘Area of Tuvalu’ to include the impact of climate change and sea level rise on the nation’s territory and statehood.
The Committee is of the view that the current Constitution does not address the impacts that climate change and sea-level rise can have on the territory and statehood of the Pacific Island nation, which may lead to threats to sovereignty, if there is loss to physical territory due to climate change.
It recommends an amendment to Section 2 of the Constitution to clearly state that “the Statehood of Tuvalu and maritime zones cannot be altered due to the effects of climate change.”
“It’s necessary to acknowledge climate change in the constitution given the already significant threats it poses to Tuvalu. It is also necessary to define Tuvalu’s stance on any potential future impacts of climate change in the supreme law of the country so as to strengthen Tuvalu’s legal standing on climate change, said the Committee in its overview of the recommendations for Constitutional amendment.
Apart from amending Section 2 of the Constitution, the Committee is also adding a new schedule 6 that declares into perpetuity Tuvalu’s geographical coordinates.
The proposed amendment says, “The area of Tuvalu shall consist of all areas bounded by baseline coordinates including maritime zones measured from such baseline coordinates declared in Schedule 6.”
In addition, the baseline coordinates ‘shall remain unchanged’ despite any regression of the low water mark or changes in geographical features of the coast or islands due to sea level rise or other causes.
The Committee wants to specifically write into the Constitution that Tuvalu is committed to protecting and conserving its land area, territorial waters and airspace – and responding to climate change which threatens the security and survival of its people.
The proposed Schedule 6 lists the geographical coordinates for Tuvalu’s main islands of Nanumea, Nanumaga, Niutao, Nui, Vaitupu and Niulakita. The declaration clearly marks the point identifier, latitude, longitude coordinates and the outer limit.
For the islands of Nukufetau, Funafuti and Nukulaelae, the schedule identifies the three islands’ archipelagic baselines – providing point identifier, latitude, longitude and point reference.
At the COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh last year, Tuvalu’s Finance Minister Seve Paeniu told PACNEWS that, “In the event that it becomes uninhabitable, we still have those coordinates marked out in our Constitution – which identifies the physical location of the nation of Tuvalu.”
It’s the first time that any nation in the world impacted by climate has specifically included the coordinates of its maritime zones and archipelagic baselines in its Constitution.
The Constitutional Review Parliamentary Select Committee, made up of former Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Kofe, Finance Minister Seve Paeniu, Health Minister Isaia Taape and two Opposition Members, Enele Sopoaga and Dr Puakena Boreham was formed in July 2020.
The Committee has asked the Tuvalu Parliament to endorse and adopt its findings and recommendation for Constitutional amendments.