French foreign minister says she is open to South Pacific resettlement requests due to rising seas

Aerial view of Tuvalu

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said on Monday she was open to any resettlement request from tiny South Pacific nations threatened by rising sea levels, similar to Australia’s agreement with Tuvalu.

Colonna said France had watched with “great interest” last month when Australia offered Tuvalu a lifeline to help residents escape the rising seas and increased storms brought by climate change.

At a meeting of Pacific leaders in the Cook Islands, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced a plan that will initially allow up to 280 Tuvaluans to come to Australia each year. Tuvalu has a population of 11,000, and its low-lying atolls make it particularly vulnerable to global warming.

Colonna said she was not sure if the French Pacific territories of French Polynesia and New Caledonia had the capacity to make similar offers.

“I’m open to consider any specific request,” Colonna told the National Press Club.

“But … the size of the Australian continent makes a big difference with the size and beauties of French Polynesia and New Caledonia,” she added.

Colonna said the Australian deal initiated by Tuvalu was one way to address some of the challenges posed by climate change.

“I’d rather see climate change being controlled and mastered,” Colonna said.

“Preemptive action maybe is better than taking some corrective measures when it is late,” she added.

She said she did not know the details of the Australia-Tuvalu treaty but was confident it respected basic principles of international law.

The treaty commits Australia to assist Tuvalu in response to major natural disasters, health pandemics and military aggression, Albanese said in a statement.

It also gives Australia veto power over any security or defense-related agreement Tuvalu wants to make with any other country such as China.

Tuvalu Prime Minister Kausea Natano said the new arrangement with Australia respected both nations’ sovereignty and committed each country to supporting the other through such challenges as climate change.

Colonna spoke to the media ahead of a meeting at Parliament House with Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong. The two ministers signed a bilateral agreement on Pacific development cooperation.

Defense Minister Richard Marles also met with French Armed Forces Minister Sebastien Lecornu on Monday at New Caledonia where they have gathered for a conference with their South Pacific counterparts.

Colonna said Marles and Lecornu were negotiating an agreement on reciprocal access to Australian and French military facilities in the region and increased joint activities.

Wong said Australia was keen to work more closely with the French military, particularly in the Pacific. France and Australia’s relations have improved with the election of Albanese’s government last year after a previous administration angered Paris in 2021 by cancelling a AUD$90 billion (US$66 billion) contract for a fleet of French-built submarines.