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Social justice is climate justice in Tuvalu


Teresa Lifuka-Drecala has worked with the Tuvaluan High Commission in Suva; The Ministry of Health and the Office of the Attorney General of the Government of Tuvalu. She was also the Director of the Tuvalu Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (TANGO) and the Tuvalu Family Health Association. 

Since she was young, her ambition and passion has been to support the vulnerable and strengthen capacity building at every level of society.  

“When we were younger, my mother encouraged me to learn sign language while waiting for her to finish work. This opened my eyes to the need to just be kind to everyone and treat everyone fairly, far before I learned the terms ‘sensitization’ or ‘inclusion,’” she explained.  

In her spare time, Teresa volunteers with various non-governmental organizations such as Fuligafou: a youth-led organization focusing on coral replanting and backyard gardening for a sustainable future, and the Fusialofa association: the only organization working with people with disabilities in Tuvalu. 

She also actively encourages women and more vulnerable members of society to play sports. But integrating gender into all aspects of her work has become more important, and today she advocates for connecting issues such as how health challenges women face can be exacerbated by climate change.

Engaging in community-based adaptation projects, Teresa collaborates with other residents and organizations to implement sustainable practices aimed at fortifying coastal defenses, preserving natural habitats, and promoting renewable energy initiatives. 

“Through my involvement in awareness campaigns and advocacy initiatives, I strive to amplify the voice of our people on the global stage, advocating for urgent action to address the root causes of climate change and secure a sustainable future for Tuvalu and other vulnerable nations.”

“As women, we grapple with the harsh realities of climate change on a daily basis,” said Teresa. “Living in a low-lying island nation vulnerable to rising sea levels, intensified cyclones, and coastal erosion, women face numerous challenges exacerbated by environmental degradation.

“Witnessing the encroachment of seawater into once-thriving communities, the loss of arable land, and the depletion of freshwater sources, we must confront the stark consequences of climate change. Despite these adversities, women in Tuvalu remain resilient and proactive to safeguard our homeland,” she added. 

Knowledge is power  

While access to education for men and women is becoming fairer for people in Tuvalu, as Teresa notes that most heads of departments are women, it is men who tend to make decisions in Parliament and at higher levels.  

Supporting women to become more educated about climate issues is therefore a first step in tackling injustices caused by climate change. The work of the Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project (TCAP) has supported scholars to become more aware of climate challenges and their solutions, in addition to building new infrastructure to combat sea level-rise. 

For example, 7.3 hectares of new, raised land has been installed in the Tuvalu capital of Funafuti, providing flood-free areas for island communities. Now, plans are underway to safeguard the long-term future of the island, with barriers stretching 665 meters along the coast on the outer island of Nanumaga and 1,330-meters on the island of Nanumea. 

These “Berm Top Barriers” consist of bags filled with local sand and water, revegetated to fit in with the natural environment. The barriers will protect communities from salt intrusion in food and water, and from large cyclone events and waves overtopping road infrastructure and buildings. 

The vision is not only to protect the island, but the community and wider identity of the people of Tuvalu. 

“Climate justice means providing a safe environment now for people, and for action now and not later. Scientists have predicted Tuvalu will be uninhabitable by 2050. This is why we are advocating for social justice alongside climate justice,” she said.  

More than infrastructure alone 

“Yes, we need more money for infrastructure and to raise our land so we are able to withstand climate change and disasters that will plague the Pacific,” she adds.

“Since migrating is not an option for most people, for a better life on the island, we say: no more fossil fuels.

“It is a cliché, but we also need everyone to come together and play their role. When other countries are emitting carbon and using up fossil fuels –and when that increases– it seems like we are at an impasse. 

“We cannot keep building infrastructure. What we need is assistance that does not come with conditions attached. Money is not enough, if it only gives permission to other countries to carry on business as usual. We are not looking at reducing emissions – we want action now to reduce emissions and fossil fuel use globally.” 

Concrete gardens 

Already, climate change is impacting and changing the lives of all people in Tuvalu.

“Most Tuvaluan people recognize that we are almost living in the last days. People are sharing photos of the spring tides, rough seas and rainy weather; motorists have to be careful because of water was splashing onto the roads carrying rocks and debris.

“When you speak with our elders, there are so many changes happening today. Tuvalu has always been a hot country, but this year has been warmer than usual. Very soon it might be a mandate to have air conditioning in every house, that is how hot it is.

“On the outer island of Nanumaga, pulaka [a crop like taro that grows on the Pacific Islands and is a key source of carbohydrate] pits have been moved into concrete gardens, so that sea water and salt does not intrude into the soil and food supply. Vegetables taste more salty than usual. More salt is becoming part of the diet,” Teresa said, which is a health issue.

Indigenous knowledge: not a “token” 

In addition to building new infrastructure and reducing fossil fuels, the power of indigenous knowledge must be tapped for a sustainable future. 

“Nature-based solutions take time to implement, and it is important that the knowledge of indigenous people does not become tokenistic. It is more important now than ever before,” she says.

 About the Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project

With US$36 million financing from the Green Climate Fund and US$2.9 million co-financing from the Government of Tuvalu, the 7-year Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project is contributing to strengthening the resilience of one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change and sea-level rise. Implemented by the UN Development Programme in partnership with the Government, the project is improving coastal protection in key locations on the islands of Funafuti, Nanumea and Nanumaga. While new measures will act as a buffer during storms, the project also strives to build the capacity of national and island governments and local communities in adapting to climate change in the longer term. Learn more at Follow the project on Twitter @TCAP4Tuvalu or on Facebook

About the United Nations Development Programme

UNDP is the leading United Nations organisation fighting to end the injustice of poverty, inequality, and climate change. Working with our broad network of experts and partners in 170 countries, we help nations to build integrated, lasting solutions for people and planet. Learn more at

About the Pacific Community (SPC)

The Pacific Community (SPC) is the principal scientific and technical organisation in the Pacific region, proudly supporting development since 1947. It is an international development organisation owned and governed by 27 country and territory members.

SPC is a key project partner to TCAP, undertaking Environmental and Social Impact, Geotechnical, Sea Level Measurement and Wave Inundation Assessments in support of TCAP’s work programme. SPC will also deliver a hands-on training programme for Tuvalu government officers and other interested parties in 2023. Among various subjects the training will cover use and improvement of the hazards dashboard.

View the original on the TCAP project website here