ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENDERS OFFICE
FUNAFUTI, TUVALU - In September 2023, Tuvalu enshrined a new definition of statehood in its constitution. A world-first, the constitution asserts the State of Tuvalu will continue to exist, even if its landmass disappears under rising sea levels. In this interview, Dr Bal Kama, who advised the constitutional committee, shares some insights on this significant development for Tuvalu and beyond. Bal specialises in Pacific legal systems with expertise in Papua New Guinea constitutional law.
He works with Environmental Defenders Office partners in the Pacific to advise clients in environmental cases arising from resource development activities such as mining and logging.
DR KAMA - In 2021, the Tuvalu Constitutional Review Parliamentary Select Committee established contact with the Environmental Defenders Office Pacific Program for expert assistance on a proposed constitutional amendment which sought to preserve the Statehood of Tuvalu in the event that its physical territory becomes submerged due to climate change.
The proposed amendment was a significant part of Tuvalu’s Future Now Project that was formulated in early 2021. The project comprises a set of innovative initiatives which, according to its architect, former foreign affairs minister Simon Kofe, are proactive measures for “the potential worst-case scenario for Tuvalu under climate change – Tuvalu’s threatened disappearance as sea levels rise and lands are submerged.”
Other initiatives under the project include becoming a digital nation and establishing bilateral relations only with countries that recognises Tuvalu’s statehood and maritime boundaries as permanent.
The proposed amendment also became part of a larger constitutional reform project Tuvalu was undertaking, some of which I was involved in as a technical expert in a different capacity earlier in 2018.
My then colleague, Fleur Ramsay, and I worked with the Tuvalu Constitutional Review Committee to draft a provision (now formalised as Section 2 of the Constitution) that declares Tuvalu’s intent to maintain its statehood and maritime rights in perpetuity.
I further travelled to Tuvalu in August 2023 to join the Committee in its final community consultations at the Island of Nukulaelae, one of the main islands of Tuvalu, and assisted it with the framing of some of the other aspects of the amendments.
The Committee members on that consultation trip that I was part of comprised both Opposition and Government MPs and Ministers, which demonstrated the important bipartisan approach that has underpinned the proposed reforms.
Tuvalu is classified by the United Nations as an “extremely vulnerable” state, in terms of being impacted by climate change.
It is clear through the success of this work that the resilient people of Tuvalu and their leaders are aware of their immense challenges and are taking various innovative and proactive approaches to preserve their country and society.