Australia offers climate shelter to Tuvalu citizens, but not all | ET REALITY


The Pacific island nation of Tuvalu was once made up of 11 islands. It has now been reduced to nine fragments of land totaling less than 10 square miles and which, like their lost brothers before them, risk being gradually devoured by the rising tides of the world’s increasingly hot oceans.

For decades, Tuvalu leaders have warned about the effects of global emissions on this small place. “It’s about disappearing from the surface of this earth,” Kausea Natano, the prime minister, said in September on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

And so, when Mr. Natano and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia announced a bipartisan agreement This week among its nations that would help Tuvalu mitigate the effects of climate change, many anticipated a full offer of climate-based asylum for Tuvalu’s approximately 11,200 citizens.

At least in the short term, the truth is much less dramatic.

The treaty, announced at the Pacific Islands Forum held in the Cook Islands on Friday, recognizes that “climate change is Tuvalu’s greatest national security concern.” But it will not allow more than 280 residents to migrate from Tuvalu to Australia each year, under an existing visa type for Pacific residents.

Natano said that limit had been imposed to prevent the brain drain: skilled citizens fleeing their home country for richer or more attractive shores.

At a news conference on the island of Aitutaki, Albanese presented the agreement as an opportunity for the people of Tuvalu to “live, study and work elsewhere, as the impacts of climate change worsen.” What was not said was the fact that, at a rate of 280 people a year, it would take around 40 years for all Tuvalu citizens to move to Australia.

For now, the Tuvaluan leader does not appear to be looking for an immediate new home for his people. Instead, the agreement, which Albanese said had been proposed by Natano, emphasizes “the desire of the people of Tuvalu to continue living on their territory wherever possible, and Tuvalu’s deep and ancient connections to the land and sea.”

To help them achieve this, Australia will contribute money to the Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project, which aims to reclaim land around the main island, Funafati, as well as at least A$350 million, or about $220 million, in climate infrastructure for the region.

For Australia, which has watched China’s diplomatic maneuvers in the Pacific with some dismay, the value of the deal may far outweigh the benefits to Tuvalu. The agreement says the Pacific nation will not enter into any other international security agreement without Australia’s explicit agreement, limiting the likelihood of Tuvalu forming an alliance with China like the one the Solomon Islands have signed.

The climate-related challenges facing Tuvalu are profound. By 2050, half of Funafuti’s land area is expected to be flooded daily, according to the country’s government. The nation also faces significant difficulties with drought and increasingly saline groundwater.

Natano and his predecessors have struggled with these potentially conflicting desires – to keep Tuvaluans safe and continue living in their shrinking homeland – for some time.

But a constitutional change adopted by the nation in October suggests that, despite the millions Tuvalu plans to spend on climate adaptation, plans are afoot for a future in which its islands are completely submerged.

He The document now states that the country’s statehood will remain “in perpetuity into the future, despite the impacts of climate change,” even if the land mass no longer exists.

What will remain, lawmakers hope, is the country’s unique Polynesian culture, as well as its exclusive fishing rights to a maritime zone That’s bigger than Texas.

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