Four ways for Australia to commit to Pacific on climate risks

Better Futures Forum

Last year, close to 24 million internal displacements of people were linked to disasters – almost 14 million in East Asia and the Pacific.

Disasters now cause almost three times as much internal displacement as conflict, with climate change amplifying the frequency and severity of extreme weather events.

Pacific leaders continue to call on Australia to support their communities in their response to climate change.

Professor Jane McAdam, international expert on refugee law and Scientia Professor of Law at University of NSW says there are four ways that Australia can support our Pacific neighbours to address the impacts of climate change.

“We can work with our Pacific neighbours to develop a toolbox of responses so that together we can face future risks and the impacts of displacement from climate change.”

She identifies four key elements that would show support to our Pacific neighbours and illustrate our commitment to international obligations:

  • Support for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation to build resilience in at-risk communities
  • Uphold legal obligations not to send people back to countries where they face a real risk to their life, or a real risk of inhuman or degrading treatment, including from impacts of disasters or climate change
  • Enhance voluntary migration opportunities so that people can move on their own terms rather than waiting for disaster to strike
  • Plan the relocations of communities so that people are supported to move out of danger zones before disaster strikes, or to move to safer areas immediately after a disaster.

Professor McAdam says financial investment is critical to ensuring that responses to climate mobility are effective and sustainable.

“At risk communities need to be confident that help will be available if and when they need it. But more than that, ongoing, sustainable financing is necessary to help build resilience, avert displacement and ensure the safety, dignity and well-being of Pacific peoples.

“This requires predictable and continuous funding for education programs, disaster risk reduction and management, adaptation projects, early warning systems and capacity building.”

“The stability and prosperity of the Pacific directly impacts Australia, while Australia, in turn, benefits from the economic and social contributions made by Pacific people here.”

Professor Anthony Burke is presenting a second keynote address outlining recommendations for a new framework of action on fossil fuel divestment that would operate in a manner similar to the 2017 nuclear ban treaty. Professor Burke identifies the limitations of the Paris Agreement’s voluntary structure and encourages Australian and Pacific leaders to consider introducing a dedicated coal elimination treaty.

Professor Burke and Professor McAdam will both then join a panel discussion moderated by Associate Professor Fengshi Wu, UNSW, a world leading scholar in environmental politics, state-society relations, and global governance with an empirical focus on China and Asia.  As part of the discussion, Professor Wu will address the tension in managing climate security risks against human rights and economic costs in the Asia Pacific region, underlining the role of quality statesmanship in careful decision making with comparisons drawn to the Ukraine-Russian conflict.  

Other panellists:

Dr Pichamon Yeophantong, UNSW Canberra.

Dr Yeophantong’s research covers Government and Politics of Asia and the Pacific, Environmental Politics, Natural Resource Management, International Relations, Public Policy. A recent paper looked at the importance of gender in river conservation in the Mekong Valley, and its impact on hydro infrastructure development.

“In many communities across mainland Southeast Asia, women’s daily duties tend to centre on collecting riverine and other natural resources … Because of this role, women in these communities are necessarily in touch with the ebbs and flows of their local rivers… they are best positioned in the community to notice irregular changes in water flows and quality, such as those possibly caused by a hydropower dam upstream. Listening to women, and looking through the lens of gender, can help us to disaggregate the impacts we see of infrastructure projects on rivers and the surrounding environment.”

Incorporating gender into Chinese hydropower development in the Mekong region | Panda Paw Dragon Claw

Dr Elizabeth Boulton, Independent Researcher at Destination Safe Earth

Dr Boulton published PLAN E, the world’s first climate and ecologically centred security strategy. Her work with “Destination Safe Earth” revolves around re-imaging security and military theory to match the nature of an altered threat environment, with a focus upon containing the hyperthreat of climate and environmental change. Her professional background is in emergency logistics (as an Australian Army Officer and with NGOs) and in the climate science and policy sector, where she worked in sustainable freight transport planning and climate risk communication. She has worked in East Timor, Africa, the Middle East, and the Pacific Islands.

Destination Safe Earth

Full panel list:

  • Jane McAdam AO, Scientia Professor of Law & Director of the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at UNSW Sydney
  • Professor Anthony Burke, Deputy Head of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at UNSW Canberra
  • Associate Professor Fengshi Wu, Political Science and International Relations at the School of Social Sciences at UNSW Sydney
  • Dr Elizabeth Boulton, Independent Researcher at Destination Safe Earth
  • Dr Pichamon Yeophantong, Political Scientist & China Specialist
  • Mr Ian Cumming, experienced climate and security advisor
  • Willy Missak, Vanuatu Climate Action Network

Better Futures Forum at UNSW Canberra on Wednesday 7 September in the session: Preparing Australia for Climate Impacts in communities across the Asia Pacific – 11am-12pm on Wednesday 7 September at UNSW Canberra in partnership with the International Universities Climate Alliance.

Full list of speakers at, and program at

For further information and media accreditation contact Niall Byrne,, 0417-131-977 or Jane Watkins,