Australia Signs Historic Climate Refuge and Security Pact With Tuvalu

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Australia has struck the “most significant” Pacific agreement in its history with the tiny island nation of Tuvalu, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said after signing a treaty to provide climate, economic and security assistance.

The accord will create a pathway for Tuvalu’s citizens to come to Australia as the threat of climate change worsens, Albanese said Friday at a press conference in the Cook Islands, flanked by Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Kausea Natano. It will also provide security for the Pacific nation in the event of a humanitarian disaster or a conflict.

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Under the Falepili agreement, as the treaty is known, Canberra will provide a special pathway for 280 of Tuvalu’s citizens a year to come to Australia. Under the visa, they will have permission to study, work or live in Australia.

“This is a groundbreaking agreement,” Albanese said. “The Australia-Tuvalu Falepili Union will be regarded as a significant day in which Australia acknowledged that we are part of the Pacific family.”

A NASA study released in August found that much of Tuvalu’s land area, along with pieces of the Pacific nation’s critical infrastructure, will be below the average high tide by 2050 if climate change proceeds as expected.

The treaty is the biggest victory yet for Australia’s revamped diplomatic efforts in the Pacific over the past 18 months, as well as the first time Canberra has struck such an agreement in the region. Both the U.S. and New Zealand have previously made similar treaties with Pacific nations.

Australia and the U.S. were shocked when the Solomon Islands announced in early 2022 that it had signed a security agreement with China. In response, Washington and Canberra have dramatically ramped up their outreach in the Pacific.

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Speaking alongside Albanese, Tuvalu Prime Minister Natano said his country had reached out to Australia to ask for the treaty. “This partnership stands as a beacon of hope,” he said, describing it as a “giant leap forward” in regional stability and sustainability.

The agreement hasn’t entered into effect yet, the Australian leader said, and will need to be approved by both governments. As part of the treaty, Australia will provide security assistance to Tuvalu in response to major natural disasters, health pandemics and in the event of security threats, Albanese said. 

Both leaders spoke shortly after wrapping up 24 hours of intense meetings with their fellow Pacific leaders on the atoll of Aitutaki, in which climate, nuclear issues and security were discussed.

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