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Pacific leaders call for justice over warming

Cecily McNeill |  18 September 2018

Climate change is opening a chasm between Australia and the rest of the Pacific as Pacific Island leaders realise Australia’s lack of commitment to reducing carbon emissions.

The Pacific Islands Forum leaders met in Nauru at the beginning of September.

Perhaps the timing of the PIF was difficult for Australia’s new leadership and prime minister Scott Morrison sent new foreign minister Marise Payne to represent him. But this robbed the Pacific leaders of an opportunity to call out Morrison on what they see as the Australian government’s lack of commitment to emissions reductions as their nations start to disappear under rising oceans.

Pacific Island leaders want justice from Australia (and New Zealand) in a concrete commitment to cut carbon emissions.

In a fiery speech before the PIF, Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele urged Australia to make deeper cuts in emissions to save Pacific Island nations from the “disaster” of climate change.

Developed countries needed to cut pollution to curb rising temperatures and sea levels, to stave off the existential challenge climate change posed to low lying islands, Mr Sailele told the Lowy Institute  Australia is one of the largest aid donors in the Pacific but so far appears to have a blind spot concerning its own contribution to the global warming that is causing the oceans to rise and threaten lives and livelihoods of its near neighbours.

The lead author on the IPCC’s fourth report, climate scientist Bill Hare says Pacific leaders constantly tell him as they fight to save their countries, their people struggle to understand why Australia’s leadership cannot see how their very existence is being threatened.

For Pacific Island leaders, Australia and New Zealand’s preoccupation with the encroachment of China in the region is a mystery. Jenny Hayward Jones of the Lowy Institute writes most leaders welcome China’s interest particularly concerning infrastructure costs. 

Former foreign minister Julie Bishop and New Zealand’s Winston Peters encouraged the UK, France and the US to expand their diplomatic presence and aid in the region to try to offset China’s influence.

The climate is a common good, says Pope Francis in his 2015 environmental encyclical Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home). 

He writes of “a disturbing warming” (LS23) which, in recent years, has been accompanied by “a constant rise in sea level and, it would appear, by an increase in extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon.” Francis’ words are ever more poignant as the world watches Typhoon Mangkhut lashing the Philippines and claiming the lives of more than 60 people mostly from landslides. As the deadly typhoon heads for China via HongKong, some 2.45 million in Jiangmen city are evacuated. 

On the other side of the Pacific, Cyclone Florence’s floods render nearly a million households without power in eight counties in the US state of North Carolina. 

Meanwhile, the PIF leaders finalised an agreement known as Biketawa Plus focused on regional security and enhanced disaster response. Julie Bishop

The original Biketawa declaration came from the 2000 PIF in Kiribati in the wake of the Fiji coup and ethnic tensions in Solomon Islands. The leaders have won themselves more leverage against Australia and New Zealand with their courting of Chinese funds.

Marise Payne stands out in her cabinet as having more sympathy for the plight of Pacific Island nations and, as such, is a good successor to Julie Bishop who worked hard to foster good relations in the Pacific. But the timin of her appointment so close to the forum meetings and Australia’s lack of policy on climate change will hamper her efforts.

Now more than ever it is vital that those who care about the global impact of climate change on the poor, particularly those who are close to home in the Pacific, equip themselves for an electoral battle on behalf of our neighbours in the Pacific for whom climate change is looking more and more catastrophic.

Photo credit: Shutterstock



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