Canberra has announced it is offering residents of Tuvalu, a Pacific archipelago particularly threatened by rising sea levels, “special” rights to settle and work in Australia under a deal unveiled today by the two countries.

“We believe the people of Tuvalu deserve to have the option to live, study and work elsewhere as climate change worsens,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his Tuvaluan counterpart Kausea Nathano said in their joint statement.

The small archipelago and the 11,000 inhabitants they are among the peoples most threatened by climate change and sea level rise. Two of its nine atolls have already sunk largely underwater and experts estimate that in 80 years Tuvalu will no longer be habitable.

In October Natano had declared that his country was in danger of “disappearing from the face of the earth” if drastic measures were not taken.

What does the agreement provide?

The agreement provides for the provision of “special” rights to those residents of Tuvalu who go to Australia, while it also includes provisions for the security of the archipelago, mainly committing Canberra to help Tuvalu in cases of invasion or natural disaster.

Australia’s commercial dependence on coal and natural gas exports – which are major contributors to carbon dioxide emissions – has long been a point of contention with its Pacific neighbors which are most affected by climate change.

This agreement can also be considered a strategic victory for Canberra, which seeks to expand its influence in the Pacific Ocean and oppose China’s growing presence in the region.

Kiribati and the Solomon Islands have turned to Beijing in recent years. Tuvalu still opposes China and has diplomatically recognized Taiwan.

Natano said the deal with Australia was “hopeful” and “a big step forward” for regional stability.

To enter into force, the agreement must be ratified by both countries.