Where Climate Migration is Already Real: Tuvalu and Australia Strike Newfangled Agreement

Tuvalu Funafurti Airport (Photo: Gabriella Jacobi / Wikimedia Commons)

As the rising sea levels threatening Tuvalu’s coast, Australia offered a „special mobility pathway” to the island’s residents including live, study and work visas.

Tuvaluans have known for a long time that their islands in the Pacific Ocean would eventually be submerged if nothing is done to combat the climate catastrophe – The Guardian reports.

As part of a comprehensive treaty, Australia last week allowed up to 280 citizens of Tuvalu to live, study, and work there annually, given the urgency of the country’s climate threat.

The effects of climate change are already being felt in Tuavalu, where rising sea levels are eroding the country’s coastline and flooding villages.

Tuvalu is a nation of nine low-lying islands in the central Pacific, about halfway between Australia and Hawaii, with a population of about 11 200. With the country’s highest point just 4.5 metres (above sea level, it is especially vulnerable to the climate crisis.

“Migration is not something that they just can think of, and then they just move away, because it involves a lot of money and preparation. We don’t want to be locked up in other people’s countries,” Tuvalu’s Climate Action Network campaigner, Richard Gokrun says. “Moving away means the dying off of our culture,” he adds.

With only 30 Tuvaluans migrated to Australia in 2021, the pathway is expected to dramatically increase migration between the two nations. Currently, Australia is home to about 250 Tuvaluans who were born there.

When the new agreement goes into effect, Tuvalu could lose more than 2 percent of its population, while Canberra could see a doubling of Tuvaluan immigration in just a year.

“I’m not really sure what the future holds for them regarding the impacts of climate change. I’m not sure whether [the islands are] going to survive the next 12 years,” a Tuvaluan photographer, Venu Edwin Pedro told the Guardian.

The treaty has not yet been passed by Australia’s parliament and will undergo “domestic processes” in both Tuvalu and Australia before it can take effect. According to climate change minister, Seve Paeniu, up to “nine to twelve months” may pass before the treaty is come into effect.

Families like Pedro’s are anticipated to have quicker access to those opportunities thanks to the treaty. It describes a “special human mobility pathway” that Tuvaluan nationals can take to relocate to Australia.

However, in the absence of funding, the plan seemingly would only benefit Tuvalu’s wealthiest and would not be a real option for those who would be most negatively impacted by climate change.


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