BY FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER MELISSA CLARKE IN TUVALUUPDATED FRI AT 1:36PM
Australia has stymied efforts by small island states to get Pacific-wide consensus on their declaration for stronger action on climate change.
- Australia expressed reservations about emissions reduction, coal use and the Green Climate Fund
- Scott Morrison said he understood sensitivities in the Pacific region but ultimately he was “accountable to the Australian people”
- Tuvalu’s Prime Minister was disappointed with the outcome, saying leaders “should have done more work for our people”
Regional leaders, including Australia and New Zealand, held 12-hour talks in the tiny Pacific nation of Tuvalu for this year’s Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), eventually reaching an agreement on a statement on climate change and a communique early this morning.
They could not reach agreement on the Tuvalu Declaration made by smaller Pacific countries, instead drafting a separate Kainaki II Declaration, with different terms on coal use and emissions reduction.
The finished communique comes with a qualification that means the leaders do not support all of the declaration from the smaller nations.
Earlier in the week, the Smaller Island States (SIS) group agreed to the Tuvalu Declaration, which acknowledges a climate change crisis, encourages countries to revise the emissions reductions targets and calls for a rapid phase out of coal use.
They had hoped the leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum, which includes Australia and New Zealand, would endorse it.
But Australia expressed reservations about the sections on emissions reduction, coal use and funding for the UN’s Green Climate Fund, while New Zealand also had reservations about the section on the Green Climate Fund.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will arrive in Tuvalu, one of the smallest and least-visited nations on Earth, for the annual gathering of Pacific leaders, who have named climate change as their top issue.
That means that the final communique endorses the Smaller Island States declaration “with qualifications”, and no country has fully committed to endorsing the Tuvalu Declaration.
Speaking after the marathon leaders meeting, Mr Morrison said he wanted the SIS group to be able to express its views “freely” but that its statement was not binding on the rest of the forum.
“The Pacific Island Forum has its leaders meeting and it agrees to the things that it agrees. And then the Small Island States have their own forum that sit within that,” he said.
“And it’s not incumbent on the leaders’ forum to have to run a ruler over that.”
‘The Prime Minister of Tonga actually cried’
Tuvalu’s PM said tears were shed during Pacific Island Forum.ABC NEWS
That disappointed the PIF chair, Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga, who said as he left the meeting: “We tried our best”.
Mr Sopoaga had invested significant time and energy in making climate change the central focus of the meeting, and pushed for the Tuvalu Declaration to be adopted by Australia, but was resigned to the alternative outcome.
Negotiations were heated, particularly between Mr Sopoaga and Mr Morrison.
Pacific pivot undermined
Australia’s return to its Pacific neighbours after years of neglect could risk being undermined by the Government’s intransigence on the region’s main threat: climate change.
“We expressed very strongly during our exchange, between me and Scott [Morrison], I said: ‘You are concerned about saving your economy in Australia … I am concerned about saving my people in Tuvalu,'” Mr Sopoaga said.
“That was the tone of the discussion. Please don’t expect that we come and bow down … we were exchanging flaring language — not swearing — but of course expressing the concerns of leaders.”
Mr Morrison said he understood the sensitivities in the region and showed his respect during negotiations, but ultimately he was “accountable to the Australian people”.
“I am accountable to the Australian people, that’s who I’m accountable for,” Mr Morrison said.
“I understand the deep sensitivities. It’s not a theoretical issue, it’s not a dinner party conversation here in the Pacific.
“It’s not just about Australia’s economy. It’s about how Australia can continue to provide the support that we do across the Pacific region.”
Mr Sopoaga said Tonga’s Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva had been reduced to tears as climate change activists delivered a presentation to the leaders earlier in the week.
“The Prime Minister of Tonga actually cried in the meeting … shed tears in front of the leaders, such is the passion.”
The outcome falls short of what Mr Sopoaga and some other Pacific leaders had hoped.
“It was a negotiated outcome, I think it still contains some references to the (UN) secretary-general’s message to accelerate actions against climate change and it’s a way forward,” he said.
“I think we can say we should’ve done more work for our people.”
How do the declarations differ on key issues?
“Encourage all countries to revise their nationally determined contributions so as to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Kainaki II Declaration
“Call for … all parties to the Paris Agreement to meet or exceed their nationally determined contributions.”
Climate change and the ADF
Australia’s Defence Department has spelled out clearly to a Senate inquiry that climate change will create “concurrency pressures” for the Defence Force as a rise in disaster relief operations continues.
“We re-affirm the UN secretary-general’s call for an immediate global ban on the construction of new coal-fired power plants and coal mines and … [call on them to] rapidly phase out their use of coal in the power sector.”
Kainaki II Declaration:
“Invite all parties to the Paris Agreement to reflect” on the UN secretary-general’s remarks on “fossil fuel subsidies and just transition from fossil fuels”.
“[Call on] the members of the G7 and G20 to rapidly implement their commitment to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.”
Green Climate Fund:
“We call for a prompt, ambitious and successful replenishment of the Green Climate Fund.”
Kainaki II Declaration:
The international community “continues efforts towards” meeting international funding commitments, “including the replenishment of the Green Climate Fund.”