Wallis and Futuna

Current Forecast: Wallis and Futuna and a Changing Climate

The Territory of Wallis and Futuna does not face submersion, but it still faces serious challenges due to climate change.

Already, rising sea levels and an increasing number of out-of-season storm surges have shaken the territory’s economy, environment and sense of safety. To date, the islands have adapted their economic and social development goals to address their evolving needs, but support from international partners will prove critical to equip the country to face a rapidly changing—and increasingly threatening—global climate.

The country, in brief: The French overseas collectivity is home to some 14,000 residents— 11,000 of whom live on the volcanic island of Wallis, with the remaining 3 thousand residing in Futuna. The country captures a total land area of 142 square kilometres (54.99 square miles).

Rising sea levels and coastal erosion will contribute to an internal, and potentially problematic, population move. Globally, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts a 0.9 meter (3 feet) increase in global sea levels by 2100—presenting a threat to the country’s population, most of whom reside in and near the islands’ low-lying coastal zones. Wallis’s inland plateau, situated, at its highest, 151 metres (495 feet) above sea level, offers residents inland refuge. Relocation, however, exposes residents to internal conflict with regard to land ownership because land is traditionally passed down within families, with the approval of local customary chiefs and regulated via oral tradition. Navigating climate-adaptation will require recognition of engrained cultural norms.

Extreme weather changes hurt the nation’s subsistence economy. The islands’ food supply relies on the subsistence economy, with residents raising their own pigs and growing staple crops, including taro, yams and manioc. But increasing storms, salt intrusion and coastal erosion increasingly risk wiping out these agricultural lifelines. Islanders can shift toward imported food—yet, in doing so, will lose their self-sustainability.

Sand mining, which produces the islands’ only export, increases coastal erosion. This degradation harms and important economic and natural resource for the islands and will force inhabitants inland at a faster rate. The islands lack alternative resources that they can monetize to replace the income from sand mining.

Offseason cyclones are a by-product of a changing climate. Cyclone Ella battered the islands in May 2017, a category 2 storm that surged through the territory outside the normal cyclone season, which traditionally ends in April. Futuna’s 5,000 residents remained on lockdown for three days; the storm cut power, damaged homes and flooded parts of the country.

Ultimately, any adaptations in lifestyle must adhere to traditional cultural norms. The local village chief reflects the authority that is closest to the population, with the credibility needed to transmit information and implement new systems. Bypassing the customary authorities will present hurdles for any third-party actors intent on strengthening the territory’s resilience to climate change.

Collective Action: Integrated Management

The European Union (EU) has played an active role in funding Wallis and Futuna’s climate-adaptation efforts. Under the European Development Fund, the EU provides upwards of 16 million euros to support economic and social development, as well as upgraded infrastructure and institutional capabilities to plan and execute measures to adapt to the changing climate. The funds, for example, fed the rehabilitation of Futuna’s port infrastructure in 2013.

Through INTEGRE, the EU’s Pacific environmental management initiative, Wallis and Futuna have launched an integrated coastal zone management system aimed at limiting coastal erosion, ending destructive fishing practices and controlling the removal of sand from the coastline. It is an effort funders hope to replicate across other climate-vulnerable nations.

Other INTEGRE plans zero in on increasing the islands’ waste management capacities by building landfills to help prevent erosion, set up pilot organic farms to implement sustainable agricultural processes, and raise awareness by streamlining the dissemination of disaster-prevention and climate-awareness
material.