Will Prime Minister Morrison listen to our Pacific Island neighbours on climate change?

Having declined to attend the Pacific Island Forum last September and refused to increase Australia’s pledge to cut carbon emissions under the Paris Agreement, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s current visit to Vanuatu and Fiji provides him an opportunity to listen and learn about what is important to our neighbours.

His visit and his associated statements seem to be somewhat ingenuously promising Pacific Islands that Australia will commit funds to ensure the “continuance of lifestyle and way of life” (in the face of climate change).  Australia’s stubborn inaction on domestic greenhouse gas emissions makes it hard to see how this visit will improve Australia’s credibility and reputation as a regional leader.

In response to Mr Morrison’s statements, Maria Tiimon Chi-Fang Outreach Officer with the Pacific Calling Partnership asked, “How can Australia’s credibility as a regional leader be achieved without more action within Australia to cut back carbon emissions?”

She said, “I am delighted that Mr Morrison will be meeting with Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.”

In partnership with other Pacific leaders, Bainimarama is a global advocate on climate change. He chaired the 2017 UN Climate conference in Bonn where he urged the world to embark on a traditional Pacific process of Talanoa – the aim of which is to share stories, build empathy and make wise decisions for the collective good.

“Again and again Pacific Island leaders have said that climate change is the single most important issue their nations face.  They have repeatedly called on Australia to take a leadership role in facing climate change and many have expressed dismay at the lack-lustre Australian climate policies,” said Maria.

 “While I commend Mr Morrison’s statement that he wishes to address the needs of particular communities, he needs to understand that climate change must also be addressed by the world community as a whole. It is imperative that Australia continue to support the Pacific Islands by reducing its emissions and by contributing to the Green Climate Fund,” explained Maria.

“In my home country of Kiribati already with 1°C of warming, this last month has seen more unseasonal damaging storms, destroying of crop-growing lands and freshwater resources on eight of our islands and thousands of homes have been flooded.” Maria said.
Mr Morrison is also visiting Vanuatu. Vanuatu recently stated that it may sue fossil fuel companies and industrialised countries for “damages” caused by climate change. In making the announcement, the Foreign Minister of Vanuatu, Ralph Regenvanu, said that the cost of climate protection should be shifted back to those responsible.  

Vincent Sicari, a Project Officer with the Pacific Calling Partnership said, “For Australia to be taken seriously the government needs to enact policies here in Australia that will ensure that we make a genuine contribution to limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius – policies that will phase out the use of fossil fuels, speed up the development of renewable energy and provide assistance to comprehensively adapt to the all the challenges of climate change.”

The Pacific Calling Partnership’s experience leads it to strongly support the contention by Lowy Institute’s Jonathon Pryke that climate change “is such a rally call for leaders in the Pacific that if you really want to improve relations you have to do something about climate change.”

When PM Morrison decided not to attend the Pacific Islands Forum in September 2018 in Nauru, former President of Kiribati, Anote Tong issued a challenge to Australia: “Now the question is as family members, is it about you or is it about all of us? Are we walking along with you or are we going to be eliminated in the process of the policies that you put in place?”

Vincent Sicari, a Project Officer with the Pacific Calling Partnership First, said “There is a  virtual blind eye to emissions as the Australian government builds an energy policy based exclusively on price. Australia’s emissions have been rising for four years in a row.”

Sicari added: “Australia’s woefully inadequate progress on emissions cuts or clean energy is weakening its regional standing in the Pacific. Mr Morrison would do well to heed the prediction of Prime Minister Bainimarama that history would condemn leaders who failed to properly address the impacts of climate change.”

“Our Pacific neighbours are keenly aware of the Australian Government;s support for the coal industry. It will take a great effort for Mr Morrison to overcome the the negative impression that he made when he took a piece of coal into the Australian Parliament and claimed that it was harmless!”

The Pacific Calling Partnership is an Edmund Rice Centre initiative working to promote knowledge of and action with the people of low-lying Pacific Island communities who are at the frontline of climate change. PCP delegations have participated in past UN Climate Summits, including the 2015 Paris Conference.

For comment contact Vincent Sicari 0413 707271 or Maria Tiimon Chi-Fang 0420 506 950

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