Torsten Blackwood Agence France-Presse A man walks on a beach in Funafuti, an atoll in Tuvalu.
A “founding” treaty: Canberra announced on Friday that it would gradually offer climate asylum to some 11,000 citizens of Tuvalu, a small group of Pacific islands eaten away by rising waters and threatened with disappearance.
< p>Two of its nine coral reefs have already been submerged and it is only a matter of time — less than a century — before its entire territory becomes uninhabitable, experts say.
On Friday, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his Tuvalu counterpart Kausea Natano unveiled the terms of a pact which should allow citizens of the archipelago to take refuge in Australia to “live, study and work there”.
In order to avoid any damaging “brain drain”, the number of entries will initially be limited to 280 per year.
Mr. Natano hailed a “ray of hope” for his nation, one of the most threatened by the effects of climate change.
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Jane McAdam, expert in refugee law, speaks of a “founding” text. “This is the first agreement that specifically addresses climate mobility,” this professor at the University of New South Wales told AFP.
“Most people don't want to leave their homes, they have very strong ancestral ties to their land and the sea, but this gives them security,” she says.
The text still needs to be ratified by both parties to enter into force.
Tuvalais refugees in Australia will have access to the education and health systems, financial and family assistance, specifies the treaty.
Also, Australia has committed to mobilizing 16 million Australian dollars (C$14.1 million) to consolidate Tuvalu's eroding coastlines and reclaim submerged land.
Photo: Torsten Blackwood Agence France-Presse Aerial view of Funafuti, an atoll in Tuvalu.
The text deplores, however, that the move to action is so late, the consequences of global warming already being palpable.
“At the same time, we believe that the people of Tuvalu deserve to have the choice to live, study and work elsewhere, as climate change worsens,” the two leaders said in a joint statement.
Mr. Albanese added that Australia is open to the idea of entering into similar agreements with other neighboring countries in the Pacific Ocean, adding that it would however require a treaty tailor-made for each candidate.
< h2 class="h2-intertitre">Responsibility of developed countries
This pact could represent a strategic victory for Canberra, which intends to strengthen its influence in the region in the face of the increased presence of China.
The treaty notably includes a defense component, committing Australia to come to the aid in Tuvalu in the event of “military aggression”, but also of a natural disaster or pandemic.
And it allows Canberra to have a say in any defense pact that the archipelago would sign with other countries.
A possibility all the more important since the Solomon Islands, west of Tuvalu, concluded one with Beijing, the agreement authorizing the deployment of Chinese armed forces on their territory.
“The “union will be seen as an important day, when Australia recognized that it was part of the Pacific family,” declared Mr. Albanese, also describing the treaty as “founding” to the press, on the sidelines of the Forum of the Pacific Islands organized in the Cook Islands.
Relations are not perfect between Canberra and its neighbors, in particular because of Australia's dependence on coal and gas exports, two economic positions pollutants criticized by surrounding nations who are already bearing the brunt of rising waters and increasingly extreme weather.
Mr. Albanese thus underlined that developed countries must start to take more responsibility in the fight against climate change, while it is those in development who suffer the most.