AUSTRALIA needs to throw open its emissions trading scheme to neighbours in the Pacific — particularly Papua New Guinea and the Solomons — and welcome climate change refugees, a think tank says.
The Lowy Institute has urged the Rudd Government to be more active on a regional solution to climate change given the issue has now been acknowledged as a security threat by Australian and Pacific leaders.
In a paper prepared for a Senate inquiry into economic and security challenges in the Pacific, the institute says the Federal Government must, for national security reasons, acknowledge the vulnerable position of Kiribati and Tuvalu.
To ignore the threat would result in security and aid agencies having to deal with mass migration forced by rising sea levels, it says.
"Australia has to acknowledge that the only viable future for the people of low-lying atoll states, like Kiribati and Tuvalu, lies in migration," policy analysts Jenny Hayward-Jones and Fergus Hanson say.
"Given that Australia will be at the centre of plans to address the forced relocation of the populations of the atoll states, it would be in Australia's interests to develop a plan now to manage their migration."
The institute proposes a two-stage migration plan under which the Government would increase the number of scholarships available to students in Kiribati and Tuvalu for study in Australia. Scholarship students should be allowed to find full-time employment in Australia if they complete their education and then be eligible for permanent residency or fast-tracked family reunion visas.
"This approach would have the advantage of providing incentives for young people to study in Australia, encourage an ordered and voluntary rather than forced migration process from Kiribati and Tuvalu and ultimately lessen pressures on aid and on the welfare system in Australia," the institute says.
The Government's climate change adviser, Ross Garnaut, and environmentalist Tim Flannery are strong advocates of involving PNG in climate change efforts.
Professor Flannery supports a scheme in which Australians would be able to buy online credits to preserve PNG's endangered forests as part of an effort to sequester carbon.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his PNG counterpart, Sir Michael Somare, signed the PNG-Australia Forest Carbon Partnership as a first step towards a joint effort on global warming.
The institute endorses this but says the Government should also allow PNG and the Solomon Islands to take part in the emissions trading scheme.