Australia-Tuvalu deal on climate, security at risk

A senior Australian intelligence official has acknowledged the potential jeopardy of a significant climate and security agreement with Tuvalu following the recent election in the Pacific nation. Andrew Shearer, the head of the Office of National Intelligence (ONI), expressed awareness of the political changes in Tuvalu but emphasized that ONI was not directly involved in the negotiations.

The treaty, signed in November, includes provisions for Tuvaluans to live, study, and work in Australia due to the country’s vulnerability to rising sea levels. Additionally, Australia committed to defending Tuvalu against military aggression. However, the recent change in Tuvalu’s leadership has raised uncertainties about the fate of the agreement.

The Greens senator, David Shoebridge, suggested that the deal might be at risk due to the election outcome, as the newly elected leader campaigned against it. The ONI chief acknowledged the political turbulence but refrained from making predictions, stating that the current position of the Tuvalu government suggests uncertainty about the agreement.

The foreign affairs spokesperson for the Coalition, Simon Birmingham, expressed concerns about the agreement’s handling in light of the recent elections. The situation was discussed during a Senate estimates hearing, where the ONI’s climate security risk assessment was also mentioned.

The ONI emphasized the complexity of the climate crisis’s relationship with other security threats, considering it one of Australia’s most significant security risks. The Australian government, represented by the assistant minister for trade, Tim Ayres, maintained that the ONI report on climate security would not be released to the public but played a crucial role in informing government decisions on climate change.

Shearer used the opportunity to highlight the evolving and complex international environment, citing recent events in the Middle East and concerns about strategic cooperation between certain powers.

Shearer further cautioned that Australia’s international landscape had become more intricate in recent months, citing specific incidents such as the attack by Hamas on Israel, conflicts in Gaza and spillover into the Red Sea, Syria, Iraq, and increased fighting along the Israel-Lebanon border. These events, along with the ongoing war in Ukraine, were identified as major focal points for the national intelligence community.

He expressed particular concern about the potential for expanded and consequential strategic cooperation among authoritarian revisionist powers. Instances cited included North Korea supplying ballistic missiles and ammunition to Russia and Iran providing armed drones to Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Returning to the Tuvalu-Australia agreement, Shearer emphasized the government’s commitment to addressing climate-related security risks. He acknowledged the uncertainty surrounding the agreement due to the recent political changes in Tuvalu but refrained from making definitive statements about its fate.

Senator Shoebridge continued to press Shearer on the impact of the election outcome on the agreement, arguing that the democratic process had led to a leader who opposed the deal. Shearer acknowledged the democratic nature of the elections but reiterated that the ONI was not directly involved in the negotiations and could not foresee the agreement’s outcome.

The hearing concluded with Shearer reiterating the complexity of Australia’s international environment, emphasizing the need for ongoing efforts to navigate the dynamic and challenging landscape. The fate of the Tuvalu-Australia agreement remained uncertain, pending further developments in Tuvalu’s political landscape.

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