Australia has offered to assist residents of Tuvalu who are relocating due to the impacts of climate change.

At a meeting of Pacific leaders, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese unveiled a plan that would enable up to 280 Tuvaluans to migrate to Australia annually. With a population of 11,000 living along low-lying coastal areas, Tuvalu is particularly vulnerable to the effects of rising temperatures.

Albanese is committed to providing a special pathway for the island nation’s citizens to access Australian social services.

Albanese described the deal as groundbreaking. The agreement is the first time that Australia has recognized climate migration in law.

In 2018, the UN Human Rights Council stated that the lack of government recognition of climate migration has put climate refugees at risk of deportation. The Institute for Economics & Peace estimates that by 2050, there could be 1.2 billion climate refugees globally.

The collaborative partnership, known as the Falepili Union, was initiated at the request of Tuvalu. Tuvalu was one of the co-organizers of the Climate Mobility Summit in September. The summit lobbied developed nations to provide greater aid to climate refugees from low-income countries.

In addition to the migration assistance, Australia will allocate increased funding to Tuvalu’s Coastal Adaptation Project. According to CBC, this project aims to expand the land area surrounding the main island of Funafuti by approximately six percent. The measure is intended to prevent Tuvaluans from having to migrate.

Climate scientists predict that Tuvalu will become uninhabitable within 50 to 100 years. Already, much of the country goes temporarily underwater during storms.

If all Tuvaluans were to take up Australia’s offer and the migration cap remains at 280 individuals per year, Tuvalu would be completely depopulated by the 2060s.

As Australia announces its plan to admit Tuvalu’s climate refugees, it’s refusing to commit to accepting climate refugees from other island nations.

Image Source: Anthony Albanese