Canberra announced that it would offer residents of Tuvalu, a Pacific archipelago particularly threatened by rising sea levels, “special” rights to settle and work in Australia, in a treaty made public by the two countries on Friday, November 10.

“We believe the people of Tuvalu deserve to have the choice to live, study and work elsewhere, as climate change worsens,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his counterpart from Australia said in a joint statement. Tuvalu, Kausea Natano.

The treaty provides for “special” rights for arrivals, but also sections devoted to defense, committing Australia to come to the aid of Tuvalu in the event of invasion or natural disaster. The Tuvalais will be able to benefit from “access to Australian services, which will allow them mobility with dignity”, specifies the text.

The small archipelago, with its 11,000 inhabitants, is one of the nations most threatened by climate change and rising sea levels. Two of its nine atolls have already been largely submerged and experts estimate that Tuvalu will be completely uninhabitable within eighty years.

Growing presence of China

In October, Mr. Natano told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the archipelago risked “disappearing from the face of the Earth” if no drastic measures were taken. The revealed treaty also wants to allow the Tuvalais to “conserve the deep ancestral ties” which unite them to their land and the sea. However, it recognizes that the move to action comes late.

Australia’s commercial dependence on coal and gas exports, polluting economic sources, have long been a stumbling block with its Pacific neighbors, who are already bearing the brunt of the consequences of climate change, including the rise of waters and more extreme weather.

This treaty can be seen as a strategic victory for Canberra, which intends to extend its influence in the ocean in the face of the growing presence of China. Kiribati and the Solomon Islands have, for example, turned to Beijing in recent years. Tuvalu remains opposed to this by continuing to diplomatically recognize Taiwan.

Natano said the treaty represents “hope” and a “big step forward” for regional stability. However, it must still be ratified by both countries to become effective.