Climate Change and Conflict By Taukiei Kitara  |  16 October, 2020

Climate Change and Sovereignty

October 19 2020 will showcase some of the sharpest minded high-level individuals from the Pacific Islands, who will be sharing their extensive and rich experiences living in their own country and fighting daily the impacts of climate change. Two of the speakers are former leaders of their country, Honourable Enele Sopoaga and former Kiribati President His Excellency Anote Tong. Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat Climate Change Advisor Mr Exsley Taloiburi and Climate Change Activist and Poet Ms Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the Marshall Islands will complete the panel. The October 19 online forum is the first of a series of online forums on the topic of climate change and sovereignty. The hope is to bring to light the indigenous knowledge and experiences that are vital to understanding why sovereignty in the Pacific is unique, and why it is different to the notion of sovereignty being perpetuated by the Westphalian version of sovereignty which we are starting to see as a concept that needs to be decolonized.

We all know that Pacific Islanders are fighting against climate change as a direct threat to our land and our ocean. But how many of us realise that climate change means we must also fight for our political independence and our identity? This is our sovereignty; we cannot let it be taken away from us, even if our land is highly at risk.

For those new to the idea of sovereignty, sovereignty is the underlying international law that allows each country to be a country on its own, making its own decisions that pertain to its people and its territory. In Tuvalu, where I am from, we fought hard to be an independent nation – to be independent from both Britain and Kiribati. We did this because we did not want our unique Tuvaluan culture to be dominated by others; we wanted to make our own decisions. We know what is best for our culture and our people. We cannot make decisions for our people without sovereignty. The Westphalian system also insists that there is habitable land. Climate change seems to be leading some people elsewhere to think that because our land might not always be habitable, that we would give up our sovereignty in exchange for a safe place to live, in a larger country. But given that climate change is hardly our doing, why should we give up our right to keep making decisions for our people, as a people, if our land becomes difficult to live on? All people deserve to have a safe place to live, but we should not have to give up something we value, our sovereignty, under all the principles of climate justice and humanitarianism, no matter what happens to our land. All Indigenous people have a right to their territory, and to make decisions about that territory forever, no matter how it changes or what the rest of the world inflicts upon us.

We recognise that even though we one day may need a safer place to live, we should never give up our sovereignty to achieve this, nor will we give up our ocean. Rich countries want access to our rich oceans; it is not theirs for the taking. Large countries are starting to look at how they can seize our rich oceans, our home islands, the places where our ancestors lived, where we are deeply connected through our cultures. We now need to fight for our right to keep what is ours. We need to protect our sovereignty, no matter what. We need to start talking about how to make this happen.

The October 19 online session ( will be the first but will be followed by another online session featuring more speakers and possibly with a face-to-face conference in 2021. The online forums create a space for ideas and open discussions on the idea of sovereignty from the perspective of the indigenous Pacific islanders and how climate change will have an impact on the sovereignty of many small islands in the Pacific region. The online forum discussions will set the platform for the face-to-face conference where high-level people will be invited as well as civil society organisations and interested community members here in Australia and from the Pacific region. The face-to-face conference will encourage participants to engage in a deep interaction and discussions with a vision for an outcome that will benefit policy decisions and influence the protection of our legal boundaries in the Pacific and in the international space. We, Pacific Small Island States, cannot and will not allow climate change to take away our sovereign rights to our lands, values, customs and ocean space.

My name is Taukiei Kitara and I am from Tuvalu, currently living in Brisbane, Australia. I worked for a not-for-profit organisation called the Tuvalu Association of Non-Governmental Organisation (TANGO) as a Community Development Officer, was a founding member of Tuvalu Climate Action Network and have represented Tuvalu civil society at several United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conferences of Parties. I am the President of the Brisbane Tuvalu Community and also council member for the Pacific Island Council for Queensland (PICQ). I am studying for my Masters in Global Development at Griffith University.