Tuvalu is a nation of nine islands and atolls halfway between Australia and Hawaii. Some 12,000 people live there. The highest point in its 10 square miles of land is 14.7 feet above sea level. Most land is less than 3.2 feet above the high tide mark. After the Maldives, it’s the country with the lowest elevation in the world. And it’s quite worried by the rising seas predicted to accompany a warmer world.
The encroaching ocean has already claimed some smaller islands. Saltwater seeping up through the ground has made growing crops in some areas difficult. Many have begun referring to Tuvaluans as some of the world’s first climate refugees.
Now, Tuvalu has announced its intent to rely 100 percent on renewable energy by 2020. The largely symbolic move – Tuvalu is not a major contributor of greenhouse gases – comes on the eve of talks in which countries will negotiate a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol. The Polynesian nation is acutely aware of its vulnerability to the consequences of climate decisions made by larger and richer countries. It hopes to inspire these nations to move toward meaningful reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions.
So far, Tuvalu has installed solar panels on the roof of the nation’s largest sports stadium. They supply 5 percent of the electricity needs of the capital, Funafuti. The array – donated by e8, a consortium of electricity firms – has reduced Tuvalu’s use of diesel by about 17,000 liters over 14 months and shrunk its carbon footprint by 50 tons. Other benefits include lessening the chance of diesel spills in the surrounding seas.
Later this year, Tuvalu will install a 46 kilowatt solar system with the help of the Italian government. In order to complete its project, Tuvalu estimates that it needs just over $20 million more in investment.