Pacific climate campaigner resigns as Tuvalu foreign minister

Stephen Wright
Pacific climate campaigner resigns as Tuvalu foreign minister Tuvalu Minister of Justice, Communications and Foreign Affairs Simon Kofe is pictured in his office in Funafuti, Tuvalu, May 18, 2023 during an interview with BenarNews.
Stephen Wright/BenarNews

Tuvalu’s foreign minister, who called international attention to the threat faced by low-lying island nations from higher seas, said he has resigned to focus on an overhaul of his country’s constitution.

Simon Kofe became synonymous with climate activism after a video of him standing knee-deep in the Pacific Ocean while delivering Tuvalu’s message to a United Nations climate change conference in November 2021 became a viral hit online. It was viewed millions of times.

“Reflecting on my journey, it’s been an extraordinary one that wouldn’t have been possible without the grace of God and those close to me,” Kofe, 39, said in a statement posted online on the weekend. 

Tuvalu, a Pacific atoll nation home to some 12,000 people, has become emblematic of the plight faced by low-lying islands from projected sea level rise over the coming century.

Without building up and extending land that averages an arm’s length above the high tide, half of the most populated atoll Funafuti will be inundated by tidal waters by 2050 and 95% by the end of this century, based on one-meter of sea level rise projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

kofe grab_edited.jpg
In this screenshot from a Tuvalu government video, Foreign Minister Simon Kofe stands knee deep in waters off Fogafale coral islet for an address to the 2021 U.N. Climate Change conference that was delivered by video on Nov. 9, 2021. [Tuvalu government/AFP]

As a cabinet minister, Kofe also spearheaded efforts aimed at ensuring Tuvalu would keep its existing exclusive economic zone and remain a sovereign nation if its land area of 26 square kilometers (10 square miles) shrank or disappeared. He said he would continue to support that work, known as the “Future Now” project.

For the 2022 U.N. climate conference, Kofe was superimposed into a three-dimensional digital replica of Te Afualiku, an uninhabited filament of palms and pulverized coral that he predicted would be one of the first Tuvaluan islets to disappear. 

He said that Tuvalu would upload a digital copy of itself to the metaverse, a purported virtual world accessed through bulky VR goggles, so there would be a record of Tuvaluan culture if its islands become submerged by rising seas. The idea remains more stunt than reality. 

“We’ve been advocating for decades now on the international stage and this is probably the most effective we’ve been,” Kofe told BenarNews in May, “in getting the world’s attention on issues of climate change.”

Tuvalu began a review of its constitution in 2016 and a final report including recommendations was published in December 2022. 

“I believe it’s time to channel my energies into completing the essential constitutional review work,” Kofe said in his statement. “This important work, requiring nationwide consultations, will take up much of my time.” 

Parliament’s five-member constitutional review select committee, which includes Kofe as chairman, has recommended declaring that Tuvalu is a Christian nation, outlawing discrimination on the basis of disability and changes aimed at improving the stability of government.   

It has not been able to reach a consensus on several proposals including transparent appointment, removal and discipline of police officers; removing Cabinet’s power to appoint judges and a prohibition on discrimination on the basis of sex.  


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