Culture and Heritage under Existential Threat: Supporting the Pacific Atoll Islands amidst the Climate Crisis

This event will be held in English.

Co-organized by Columbia Global Centers | Paris, Rising Nations Initiative, the Global Centre for Climate Mobility, and Columbia Alumni - France.

As the waters of the Pacific rise due to climate change, those who call it home are faced with urgent, existential questions. How to preserve oral cultural heritage when they may have to leave their homes? How to preserve the sovereignty of a people whose land will be totally inundated by seawater? And how to answer these questions on the scale of the potential 2.3 million people at risk in the Pacific Islands?

A panel of experts will tackle these questions, followed by a discussion with the audience. An apéritif will follow.

Samuelu Laloniu, Special Envoy from Tuvalu for the Rising Nations Initiative; Kamal Amakrane, of the Global Centre for Climate Mobility; and Grace Malie, Tuvaluan Youth Delegate will participate. The panel will be moderated by Yu Ping Chan of the Rising Nations Initiative Secretariat.

Tuvalu, a small island in the Pacific, stands at the frontline of the climate catastrophe, as it is predicted to be totally submerged by sea level rise in a matter of decades. A high-level Tuvaluan delegation, supported by the Rising Nations Initiative, is visiting Paris as part of a global campaign for awareness, advocacy and action, and in particular, to accede to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention. 

The global community is called to act, in response to the urgent existential threat facing the Pacific Atoll Islands. Tuvalu has joined the UNESCO World Heritage Convention in an effort to protect their heritage and communities and preserve their statehood and sovereignty. This event will be held as they physically deposit the instrument of ratification at the UNESCO Headquarters.

Indeed, while Tuvalu faces the most immediate threat, sea level rise is a critical challenge for others as well. Over 25,000 Pacific Islands encompass 15% of the Earth's surface, and almost 2.3 million people are at risk, as are millions more in coastal communities and low-lying cities.

Read more about Tuvalu’s plan to tackle rising sea levels.

The Panel

Samuelu Laloniu, Special Envoy for the Rising Nations Initiative of the Government of Tuvalu

Samuelu Laloniu served as the Permanent Representative of Tuvalu to the United Nations between 2017-2022. A career diplomat, Mr. Laloniu was before that High Commissioner to New Zealand between 2015-2017, and previously served as Consul General in Auckland between 2010 and 2014. He has also served as Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, and as Deputy High Commissioner to Fiji. Mr. Laloniu’s other Government positions included Assistant Secretary at the Ministry of Communications and Transport between 2000 and 2004, and Private Secretary to the Prime Minister from 1998 to 2000. In 1997, he served as a Pacific Regional Project Associate with the Food and Agriculture Organization office in Fiji, prior to which he was a Fisheries Research and Development Officer at the Ministry of Natural Resources from 1994 to 1996. A graduate of the University of Otago in New Zealand, Mr. Laloniu earned a Master of Arts degree in public policy from Victoria University in Wellington, also in New Zealand.

Kamal Amakrane, Managing Director, Global Centre for Climate Mobility

Mr. Amakrane leads the Global Centre for Climate Mobility, advancing regional climate initiatives at the UN, and has spearheaded the Rising Nations Initiative to support and protect Pacific Atoll Island nations facing existential threat due to climate change. He is an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University and a former senior United Nations official that has served in the Cabinet of the President of the United Nations General Assembly, as well as other senior leadership positions in the UN, including in peacekeeping and political missions such as Iraq and Myanmar. Mr. Amakrane played a key role in major global multilateral agreements such as the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants as well as the Global Compact for Migration. He was a Yale World Fellow in 2012 and serves on the board of the Tällberg Foundation.

Grace Malie, Rising Nations Initiative Youth Delegate

Grace Malie is from the beautiful islands of Tuvalu. She is the Acting Personal Assistant to the Minister of Foreign Affairs at the Ministry of Justice, Communications & Foreign Affairs. Before this, she was a student at the University of the South Pacific pursuing a Bachelor of Commerce. Grace enjoys working with other youths in helping with island community events and assisting non-governmental organizations in their projects such as coral planting. She also likes working with other young people to address issues using art forms such as dancing and singing. Grace participated in COP27 as a Rising Nations Initiative Youth Delegate and engaged in discussions to secure the future of Tuvalu.

Yu Ping Chan, Head, Rising Nations Initiative Secretariat

Yu Ping Chan leads the Rising Nations Initiative secretariat at the Global Center for Climate Mobility (GCCM), coordinating the RNI’s programs in support of the Pacific Atoll Island nations. She previously led the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology, as well as the Policy and Regional Support teams in the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism. Prior to this, she worked in the UN’s Department of Political Affairs, and in the New York Office of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Before joining the UN Secretariat, Yu Ping was a diplomat in the Singaporean Foreign Service, including serving at the Singapore's Mission to the United Nations in New York. Yu Ping has a Bachelor of Arts (magna cum laude) from Harvard University, and a Masters of Public Administration from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

Rising Nations Initiative
The Rising Nations Initiative is enabled by the Global Center for Climate Mobility; a partnership of UN Member States, relevant agencies of the UN system, the World Bank and respective regional intergovernmental organizations to address climate-forced migration and displacement. For more information about the Rising Nations Initiative, please email Read more about the Rising Islands Initiative.

Global Centre for Climate Mobility
The Global Centre for Climate Mobility produces knowledge, builds consensus, and brokers partnerships across sectors, stakeholders, and levels of governance to anticipate, plan for and address climate mobility.​

UNESCO World Heritage Convention

The most significant feature of the 1972 World Heritage Convention is that it links together in a single document the concepts of nature conservation and the preservation of cultural properties. The Convention recognizes the way in which people interact with nature, and the fundamental need to preserve the balance between the two.

The place
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Today, Reid Hall is home to several Columbia University initiatives: Columbia Global Centers | Paris, Columbia Undergraduate Programs, M.A. in History and Literature, Columbia’s architecture program, and the Institute for Ideas and Imagination. This unique combination of resources is enhanced by our global network whose mission is to expand the University's engagement the world over through educational programs, research collaborations, regional partnerships, and public events.

The views and opinions expressed by speakers and guests do not necessarily reflect the official policies or positions of Columbia Global Centers | Paris or its affiliates.

May 18, 2023 at 7:00pm - 9pm

Reid Hall

4 rue de Chevreuse
Paris 75006
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