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Main threats and issues facing Tuvalu

Where is Tuvalu

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  • The islands of Tuvalu lie just below the equator and west of the International Dateline.
  • With a total land area of only 26 km2 (11 square miles), Tuvalu is one of the smallest countries in the world, spread over half a million square miles of ocean

Basic Facts

  • The name ‘Tuvalu’ means ‘cluster of eight’ although the group in fact consists of nine low-lying coral atolls.
  • The population is 12,300.
  • Both Tuvaluan and English are spoken. Funafuti is the capital.


  • Tuvalu forms part of the Polynesian triangle that stretches from Hawaii in the north to New Zealand in the south
  • Traditional community life is still important, with the open-sided maneapa the centre for important meetings and celebrations
  • Family and church are an important part of island life


  • The first inhabitants arrived by sea about two thousand years ago
  • A society under the leadership of chiefs developed, and customs and traditions akin to Samoa remain today.
  • The first European sighting of the islands was in 1765.
  • The islands became part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony.
  • After a referendum in 1975, the Ellice Islands separated from the Gilberts and became Tuvalu, achieving independence in 1978.


  • Tuvalu lies within the tradewind zone, on the northern edge of the hurricane belt
  • Occasionally the islands are affected by cyclones such as Cyclone Pam in March 2015
  • Temperatures are high all year round

Main Challenges

  • Tuvalu is one of the nations on the front line of climate change.
  • The islands are threatened by sea level rise and more extreme weather caused by rising ocean temperatures.
  • Tuvalu’s highest point is less than 4.6 metres (15 feet) above sea level
  • It is now predicted that all the islands will be submerged before the end of this century.

Sea Level Rise – Causes

  • A warmer ocean expands in volume (a process called thermal expansion)
  • Warmer sea and air temperatures increase the melting of Arctic and Antarctic ice which adds more water to the ocean
  • Sea levels rose by 20 cm since 1870
  • Cyclones can also produce a high rise in sea level, known as storm surges.
  • Waves can also wash over the islands during king tides

Sea Level Rise – Effects

  • Increased flooding of settlements and land used for agriculture
  • Flooding damages infrastructure such as roads and buildings
  • Salt water in the soil makes it harder to grow crops
  • Loss of fresh ground water for humans, animals and plants
  • Coastal erosion increases, damaging natural habitats on land and in the sea


  • The people and the government of Tuvalu are looking for solutions to these challenges
  • Tuvaluans are working with their fellow nations in the Pacific to come up with ways to meet the challenges of climate change
  • For example, increasing their use of renewable energy such as solar
  • And also, asking the rest of the world to do its bit to cut down on carbon emissions
  • Because if the seas rise, the people of Tuvalu will have to leave their homeland

“There are no boundaries to the effects of climate change. We are dealing with saving human lives – and therefore saving Tuvalu is also saving the world.”
— Enele Sopoaga, Tuvalu Prime Minister

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