Australia urged to take in 3000 Pacific Islanders to offset climate change

The Australian government is being urged to create a new visa for Pacific Islanders to relocate permanently to Australia, in a bid to manage the impact of climate change in the region.

The recommendation was outlined in a new policy paper released today by the University of New South Wales' Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law.

The paper urges the government to do more to help neighbouring countries, with several Pacific island nations facing an existential threat from rising sea levels.

Co-author Jane McAdam said it was a roadmap for Australia to deal specifically with the displacement of Pacific Islanders as a result of climate change and natural disasters.

"What we do know is that because disasters are likely to increase, both their intensity and their frequency, it means that people's normal adaptation capacity is being almost overtaken," she told the ABC's Pacific Beat programme.

"Things are happening too quickly for them to be able to respond and avoid displacement altogether.

The Carteret Islands were the first place in the world to require population relocations due to climate change, with predictions they would be submerged by 2015.

"If you look at where the trajectory is, unless you have major changes in mitigation and adaptation efforts, we're likely to see more displacement occurring."

Co-author Jonathan Pryke, from the foreign affairs think tank the Lowy Institute, told the ABC he recommended about 3000 permanent residencies for Pacific Islanders each year.

He said relocating even a small number of people on a voluntary basis would help ease pressure on vulnerable countries.

"We are advocating for a real drop in the ocean here with regards to our overall migration scheme," he said.

"This is not a radical proposal, we're not suggesting opening the gates to the region. It's an important component of helping improve welfare in the region but also being an important mitigating tool for climate change displacement."

The Department of Home Affairs did not directly respond to the ABC's question of whether it would consider a new visa scheme, but highlighted Australia's existing migration pathways.

"Supporting our Pacific neighbours is a key focus for the government," a spokesperson said in a statement.

"Australia welcomes the contribution that people from Pacific Island nations have made to Australia for generations.

"There are opportunities for individuals from Pacific countries to apply for a visa to permanently migrate to Australia through the skilled or family migration programme."