Last week, Australia and Tuvalu announced the world’s first bilateral agreement on climate mobility. The agreement provides Tuvaluans facing the adverse impacts of climate change a dedicated migration pathway to move to Australia to live, study and work. While this is an important step forward in providing opportunities for those at the frontline of climate change, it is no panacea. Much more needs to be done to assist climate-affected communities in the Pacific – and around the world – starting with better mitigation of greenhouse gases.  

Climate change and disasters are already having far-reaching impacts on human mobility globally. In the absence of significant and scaled-up global mitigation and adaptation efforts, the risks posed by climate change are likely to continue, contributing to the movement of people both within countries and across international borders. To ensure that such movement is safe and dignified, we need a range of rights-based responses.

That is the focus of the new Kaldor Centre Principles on Climate Mobility.

 The Principles are grounded in evidence and informed by proven good practices. Their recommendations are not prescriptive – there is no one-size-fits-all approach to climate mobility. Instead, they offer a toolkit that can be tailored to specific circumstances. 

 The Principles address a broad range of laws, policies and practices that can impact those who want to remain at home, as well as those who move. Holistic, interconnected, comprehensive and adaptable, they address all forms of mobility – displacement, migration, evacuations and planned relocations – as well as immobility.

‘Dignified, rights-based responses to climate mobility are crucial,’ said Professor Jane McAdam AO, Director of UNSW’s Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, who co-authored the Principles. ‘That is why the starting point must be to assist and resource people to remain in their homes for as long as they wish to do so. This means mitigation, but it also means supporting adaptation, promoting sustainable development and managing climate- and disaster-related risks.  

‘At the same time, migration can be a form of adaptation to climate change when it is done sensitively and in consultation with affected communities,’ Professor McAdam said. ‘It’s also important to recognise that when people are displaced in the context of disasters and climate change – whether within their own countries or across an international border – governments have legal responsibilities to provide protection. 

Co-author and Kaldor Centre Affiliate Dr Tamara Wood said, ‘The Principles make it clear that a holistic approach to climate mobility is critical. Setting up new migration pathways alone is not enough – a much broader range of actions is required to ensure that communities at the coalface of climate change can decide for themselves whether to stay or go, and in either case, can pursue their hopes and dreams in safety and with the support they need. 

‘There is so much we can do – now and into the future – to ensure that those affected by climate mobility have agency and choice in decisions that affect their lives,’ Dr Wood said. 

Professor McAdam added, ‘The Kaldor Centre Principles on Climate Mobility are the culmination of years of thinking, analysis and practice, providing a go-to resource for governments, affected communities, international organisations, civil society groups and other stakeholders.’ 

The Kaldor Centre Principles on Climate Mobility aim to guide legal and policy responses that will safeguard people’s fundamental human rights and respect principles of climate justice, now and into the future.  

Read the Kaldor Centre Principles on Climate Mobility