“The sea is our everything – and it burns”

11 November, 2021

At the forefront of climate change is Tonga – an island nation in the Pacific Ocean where rising sea levels, warmer waters and tropical cyclones pose an increasing threat.
The sea is everything to us. But there is a fire,” the country’s delegate Uili Lousi told TT [Tidningarnas Telegrambyra] at the climate summit.

He has travelled for four days to get to Glasgow – with stopovers and covid tests in New Zealand, Los Angeles and London. When the pandemic has forced Tonga’s prime minister and other senior representatives to stay at home, it is Uili Lousi who gets to act as the island nation’s representative at COP26.

“I’m here as an official representative of Tonga and of civil society,” the environmentalist and artist told TT’s envoy at the climate summit.

“I may not be home again for four months. I have to wait for there to be room for me to quarantine in New Zealand for two weeks. The uncertainty has not been in getting to the climate summit but in how it will be possible to get back to Tonga again.

Small delegations

The pandemic’s travel restrictions have allowed only four leaders from the Pacific countries to attend the climate summit in Scotland. The remaining eleven Öriken have had to cope with smaller delegations and volunteers from civil society organizations.

It has raised concerns that the countries that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change – and at the same time are least responsible for the carbon emissions that cause rising temperatures – will find it difficult to make themselves heard during what is seen as the most important climate conference since the Paris Agreement was concluded.

But they still do everything they can to hammer in the message that action is needed now and not in the distant future. Because by then it may be too late. When the sea rises and devastating storms set in, there is nowhere to escape for those who live their lives on a low-lying island surrounded by the sea.

Stones laid out to protect against the sea in Nuku’alofa, capital of Tonga. Photo: Karen Setten/NTB

Warns of water

Tuvalu’s Foreign Minister Simon Kofe has managed to penetrate the noise in a video message in which he describes, with water up to his knees, how rising sea levels and soil erosion threaten to put the small island nation under water.

Palau President Surangel Whipps – one of the Pacific leaders who had been present in Glasgow – warned in his speech that his country was about to disappear before his eyes:

– Honestly, there is no dignity in a slow and painful death. You might as well bomb our islands directly instead of making us suffer.

For Tonga, climate change means increased vulnerability to extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones but also rising sea levels, rising temperatures and more precipitation – which in turn increases the risk of drought, flooding and coral bleaching.

Uili Lousi was a teenager when he experienced his first tropical cyclone: Isaac which caused great devastation at Tonga in 1982. It was several years before the next one struck.

“But now we can be hit by six cyclones a year. The only thing we can do is hope that they will pull past us and not over land,” he said.

Uili Lousi
“The sea is our everything,” said Uili Lousi of Tonga. Photo: Sofia Eriksson/TT


The biggest concern for Tonga, however, is rising sea levels and increasingly warmer waters, says Uili Lousi. Much of the island nation is flat and no major sea level rise is required to cause extensive damage. But the mighty Pacific Ocean is also deeply intertwined with the lives of the Tongans – it is a source of food, livelihood and culture.

“The sea is everything to us. But it’s on fire. And rising sea levels threaten our homes,” Uili Lousi said.

“For us, the climate threat is very much real. It’s happening here and now. We must slow down development in order for our children and grandchildren to have a future.

The island nations are demanding that richer countries increase their financial support for less developed countries’ struggle to tackle climate change and consign fossil fuels to history.

“Tonga is part of a whole, but we also live with the effects of the climate change that others cause,” says Uili Lousi.

“The G20 countries must increase their climate finance. But emissions must also be halved by 2030 in order to keep alive the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees. For us, it is vital.

Tonga is an island nation in the South Pacific, with about 100,000 inhabitants. Tonga is located about 650 kilometers southeast of Fiji.

Tonga consists of 172 islands, 36 of which are permanently inhabited.

The capital Nuku’alofa is located on the largest island, Tongatapu, in the southern part of the archipelago.

The economy is dominated by agriculture and tourism. The country relies on financial assistance from Australia, New Zealand and China.

Source: Nationalencyklopedin

Text: Sofia Eriksson/TT
Photo: Jane Barlow/PA/AP/TT, Karen Setten/NTB, Sofia Eriksson/TT

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