Co-authored by Prof. Philippe Forêt, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Brac University & Department of Social Sciences, University of Basel, Prof. Manfred Max Bergman, Department of Social Sciences, University of Basel, Carlos Álvarez Pereira, Club of Rome.
In the post Covid-19 world, climate change and biodiversity loss will remain pressing global challenges. Scientists have discussed in countless publications and conferences well-known risks to life, but their proposals for securing a future within “planetary boundaries” have until now not resulted in decisive and pragmatic responses by local governments. Could a simple yet compelling initiative endorsed by a small island state alter this situation, influence the highest levels of decision-making, and outline a vision of transformation and regeneration?
The climate crisis has severely impacted the fragile but uniquely rich environment of the Kingdom of Tonga. Cyclones, king tides, and rising sea levels have increased the demand for resilient constructions and infrastructures, and therefore for sand. The building industry of Tonga has however exhausted the sand reserves in a country whose beaches have been destroyed by recent cyclones. Offshore mining has accelerated land erosion and destroyed the sea bed of its main island, Tongatapu (Matangi Tonga News, 26 September 2020). Without sand, critical resilience projects, urban infrastructure, and rural roads are at risk, and lifelines to outer islands and villages may be lost.
If a substitute for sand becomes available, the Governor of Vava’u, Lord Fakatulolo, believes he can stop illegal mining and protect the environment of a paradise for biodiversity and eco-tourism. At the Tonga High Commission in London, First Secretary Viliami Lolohea may have found a solution to this challenge. He realized that sand depletion was a security issue when he attended the Advanced Security Cooperation course at the D.K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu. A delegation from New Caledonia then called his attention to 25 million tons of nickel mining waste stockpiled outside Nouméa.
Ferronickel slag or Sland could indeed replace sand, reclaim land, protect harbors, and be turned into bricks for resilient buildings. The Tonga High Commissioner in London, Her Excellency The Honourable Fanetupouvava’u Tu’ivakano, has given her full support to this solution: “This is a unique and innovative project that aligns with the SDGs and His Majesty King Tupou VI’s vision as addressed to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2019. It will have a profound and lasting impact in the lives of the people of Tonga and the Pacific.”
Launched in September 2019 by the Club of Rome at the UN Climate Action Summit, the Planetary Emergency Plan has inspired Viliami’s creation of a Non-Governmental Organization. The NGO “Royal Lalanga Fononga” (“The Weaving of Our Journey”) will deliver Sland-based products to the small-island states that join Viliami’s initiative. By shipping Sland that will be locally processed, the governments of Tonga and New Caledonia plan to promote island-to-island cooperation, a circular local economy, and sustainable development in the South Pacific.
The list of participants invited to the Planetary Emergency Plan event underscores a fundamental shift in the geography of power in the 21st century. Solutions for a new deal for people, nature and climate may come from Costa Rica, Monaco, Bhutan, and Fiji — nations that Tonga would consider peers. If Tonga can successfully mitigate some of its vulnerability to climate change, we may feel optimistic about the rebuilding of an equitable world that would be founded on human and ecological well-being. Viliami’s Sland bricks make a powerful case for immediate and practical actions that protect the global commons, that transform the mining industry, and that secure long-term benefits to endangered and isolated communities.
1] Trademark under registration process
Tonga picture by Darren Rice.