Boats anchor adjacent to living rooms on Fiji’s Serua Island, when high tide breaches the barrier and floods the hamlet. As seawater inundates gardens, planks of wood span between some dwellings, providing a temporary pathway.
Village elders have long assumed that they will die on this precious property, where their leaders are buried.
However, when the community’s options for adapting to the rising Pacific Ocean dwindle, the 80 members must make the difficult choice to relocate.
Village elders are opposing, hoping that land reclamation would prevent the sea from destroying Serua Island’s dwellings and ancient burial grounds, he adds.
According to Fiji government authorities, Serua Island is one of several coastal settlements facing tough choices about their future and asking government aid for costly initiatives to adapt or relocate.
At a mid-July conference in Fiji’s capital, Suva, leaders of 15 low-lying Pacific island countries named climate change their “single greatest existential threat.”
They urge rich countries, who have contributed the most to global warming, to not only reduce their emissions but also pay for the efforts that islands must take to safeguard their people from rising sea levels. The campaign has emerged as a significant battleground at United Nations climate summits.
According to Shivanal Kumar, a climate-change adaptation expert at Fiji’s economics ministry, building seawalls, planting mangroves, and improving drainage are no longer enough to rescue settlements in many circumstances.
“A lot of communities are in genuine crisis, they’ve been trying to survive,” he says to Reuters. “The impacts of climate change have been felt for many years and there came a time where they gave up and said it’s now time to move.”
According to Kumar, relocation tries to safeguard people from rising oceans, larger storm surges, and more intense cyclones.
However, authorities claim that the monies offered by affluent countries at United Nations climate conferences do not finance removal, but simply adaptation, such as erecting a seawall.
At this year’s global climate summit, known as COP26, rich countries agreed simply to keep talking about compensating disadvantaged societies for the inescapable effects of climate change, such as migration.
At their summit, Pacific leaders urged developed countries to make real progress at COP27 on a new goal: rapid compensation for such “loss and damage.”
On Wednesday, the president of COP26, British politician Alok Sharma, stated in Suva that he understood the frustration of Pacific villages on the front lines of climate change.
“You are forced to deal with the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions generated largely by the biggest emitting countries, who are a long way from here. This is not a crisis of your making,” he said in a speech.
“We are going to have to find a way of having a substantive discussion on loss and damage at COP27.”
Fiji, an archipelago of hundreds of islands located around 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) north of New Zealand, became the first Pacific island government to move a settlement due to rising sea levels in 2014.
Six communities have relocated or intend to relocate with government assistance, but a new method to prioritize the most urgent relocations is still being developed.
Another 795 people will have to relocate, according to climate youth campaigner Salote Nasalo, who says she loses sleep worrying about where they can go. According to Nasolo, a University of South Pacific student, Pacific youth will continue to oppose the large emitters’ intransigence on finance.
Vunidogoloa was the first community to evacuate after people welcomed authorities to witness how they lived with water up to their knees. According to previous village headman Sailosi Ramatu, saltwater had damaged the 150 villagers’ capacity to plant crops, robbing them of livelihoods and food security.
Children now sit outside their houses in the new community 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) inland on Vanua Levu Island, dry feet planted firmly on the earth.
According to Ramatu, 63, it took effort to convince the elders to relocate, but the community banded together and listened to specialists.
“We can also make a decision in the world if the leaders come together,” he says. “They should help us, they should pay for our loss and damage.”