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Tuvalu climate relief deal hailed

4 December 20230 comments

Australia’s offer of climate change relief to the Pacific atoll nation of Tuvalu has been hailed as “ground breaking” by experts and a signpost for future similar deals.  

Residents of the low-lying Pacific island nation of Tuvalu will now have a ‘special mobility pathway’ to permanent residency and citizenship in Australia, under the terms of the Australia-Tuvalu Falepili Union.

The bilateral pact announced at the Pacific Islands Forum in Cook Islands gives Tuvalu, a nation of 11,200 people, an exit strategy if the island succumbs to climate change induced rising sea levels.

The pact opens the way for an initial 280 people per year to resettle in Australia with rights to live, work and study.

It also provides Australia veto power over Tuvalu’s security arrangements with any other country.

Australia will also fund land reclamation and also assist Tuvalu if it faces natural disasters, pandemics and military aggression.

Professor of International Refugee Law at the University of NSW Jane McAdam said the move was “ground breaking”.

“Our region is already experiencing some of the most drastic effects of climate change. Pacific communities are showing enormous innovation and resilience in the face of these challenges, but as a matter of international solidarity and climate justice, additional support and cooperation is needed,” Prof McAdam said.

“One way of providing assistance is by creating migration pathways for people who wish to move. Australia’s recent Pacific Engagement Visa is one such example – enabling up to 3,000 workers and their families from the Pacific and Timor-Leste to migrate permanently to Australia each year.

“In addition, the announcement this week of an Australia–Tuvalu Falepili Union Treaty is ground breaking. Under this deal, Australia will provide migration pathways for people from Tuvalu facing the existential threat of climate change. It is the world’s first bilateral agreement on climate mobility,” Prof McAdam said.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, “developed nations have a responsibility to provide assistance” to countries like Tuvalu that are deeply impacted by climate change.

Under the treaty, Australia will implement a special visa arrangement to allow Tuvaluans to work, study and live in Australia. Not a refugee visa, the arrangement will allow up to 280 Tuvaluans to migrate to Australia each year on what seems a permanent basis.

The Tuvaluans will have access to Australian education, health care, and income and family support on arrival – providing people with both legal and psychological security.

Prof McAdam said that despite the threats posed by climate change, however, most Pacific peoples do not want to leave their homes. Being dislocated from home is one of the greatest forms of cultural, social and economic loss people can suffer. It can often lead to inter-generational trauma.

“While there are other programs in the Pacific that facilitate mobility, this is the first to do so specifically in the context of climate change,” she said.