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Climate Change in the Island Kingdom of Tonga

Tonga is a small island Kingdom situated in the South Pacific Ocean. The country consists of 169 islands, of which only 36 are inhabited. The coastal areas are home to the majority of the country's population, with more than 80% of Tongans living within 5km of the coastline. Sadly, Tonga is also one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change's effects in the Pacific. The rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and frequent extreme weather patterns have caused significant losses and damage to the Tongan coastal areas.

The rising sea levels are one of the most notable impacts of climate change in Tonga's coastal regions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that by the end of the century, the sea level will have risen anywhere from 26 cm to 82 cm. Many coastal areas in Tonga have already experienced and are still suffering the impacts of sea level rise, and consequently, the low-lying areas are frequently flooded. Many homes and other buildings have faced damage or destruction as a result of the severe coastal erosion brought on by the high tides. Agricultural land has been disrupted by the high prevalence of coastal flooding, which has prompted decreased crop yields and economic loss for many households.

The frequency and severity of extreme weather events, including tropical cyclones and storms, are increasing. These disasters’ strong winds and storm surges can also cause substantial coastal erosion and floods. This is one way that climate change is impacting Tonga's coastal regions. Subsequently, roads, bridges, and other coastal infrastructure, as well as buildings, sustain considerable damage. Tropical Storm Gita struck Tonga in 2018 and significantly damaged the nation's coastal regions. The storm resulted in massive floods, destroyed homes and infrastructure, and estimated losses and damages of $200 million. I was only in Form 4 when this tragic event occurred. It came as a surprise both for me and my family, as this was the strongest cyclone we have ever experienced.

In preparation for this, we were advised that we had to cut down the coconut trees we had in our backyard, which we would consider a huge loss. However, this proved to have been the best precaution we took to ensure we still had a roof over our heads. Had we not taken these precautions, we would have had our house severely damaged. The strength of the cyclone was felt when my dad and I had to hold down the roof of our porch from being blown away completely.

The above picture clearly shows the huge losses as well as damages caused by the recent volcanic eruption of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha`apai islands in Tonga. This shows the increase in severity of the weather events that have occurred in the Kingdom as a result of climate change and global warming. This as compared to whether events in the past were not close to as severe as they are currently. Before the Volcanic eruption was cyclone Gita, category 5, which also devastated the people and the land. Although we were warned of a possible volcanic eruption earlier on in the week, we were still caught by surprise. This began with several large bang sounds, which we did not imagine to be the eruption. The entire country was in shock as the mushroom clouds were seen. All that could be heard was vehicles rushing past and heading inland towards higher grounds. In less than an hour of the bang, the entire country was covered by darkness as ashes fell from the clouds. The roads were blocked, people panicked, and I was trying my best to remain calm.

With clear evidence, the coastal ecosystems of Tonga are being significantly impacted by ocean acidification due to climate change and its effects. About 25 percent of the total carbon dioxide produced by human activity is absorbed by the oceans, increasing the acidity of the oceans.
Coral reefs, vital to Tonga's coastal ecosystems, are significantly harmed by this acidification. Many fish species that are a valuable source of food and revenue for coastal populations can be found in coral reefs. Reduced fish populations as a result of ocean acidification's destruction of coral reefs have a severe negative impact on the livelihoods of many coastal communities. As I grew up, the coastal areas would be one of the best views in the Kingdom. The sandy beaches, the beautiful coastline, and the flawless views were one of the great leisure areas. However, it is a completely different story today, coastal areas are damaged, coral reefs are affected, coastal erosion is seen almost everywhere, and the once beautiful coastline areas are slowly deteriorating.

In a nutshell, I believe that with all these impacts that climate change has on the Kingdom of Tonga, and the efforts to make Tonga more resilient to these impacts can be better improved. The effects of climate change on the Tongan coastal areas are significant and profound. The rising sea levels, increased frequency of extreme weather events, and ocean acidification are causing significant losses and damage to coastal communities. These impacts are particularly devastating for Tonga, given the country's dependence on coastal resources for food and income. Urgent action is needed to address loss and damage, adapt, and mitigate the effects of climate change and protect Tonga's coastal areas and the people who rely on them. Although various measures have been taken to combat these negative effects, such as constructing early warning systems, sea walls, and increasing public awareness, Tonga is yet to be as resilient to these effects as it should be. It is important to note that as a developing country, Tonga faces major challenges and limitations when it comes to the issue of making the country more resilient to the impacts of climate change. The infrastructures that we have are not climate resilient. I recommend that the government take measures to adapt to the effects of climate change. This includes building and improving sea walls and establishing warning systems to alert the people of impending natural disasters better. In addition, Tonga can contribute to decreasing greenhouse gas emissions by increasing the use of renewable energy and decreasing reliance on fossil fuels. Finally, through working together with other countries and international organizations, they have a much better chance of addressing the issue of climate change in terms of funding projects that directly address climate change.

-written by Soana Tupola
-credit: Loss and Damage Youth Coalition

Story Information:

Country: Tonga

Topic: Climate change (general)

Photo or video credit: as captioned and Loss and Damage Youth Coalition

Text Credit: Soane Tupola

Date : 10 May 2023

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