Apr 06, 2020 Last Updated 3:57 AM, Apr 6, 2020

Reflecting the growing concern over the Coronavirus pandemic, the Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum  and Tuvalu Prime Minister, Kausea Natano, invoked a few days ago the Biketawa Declaration, a security arrangement enabling members to meet on security matters.  An urgent virtual meeting of Forum Foreign Ministers will be held this coming Tuesday, April 7,  to discuss a regional response to the situation.  This is a welcome development, enabling a regional discussion of collective concerns, needs, and potential responses, including exploration of a coordinated way forward working with development partners.  It will be likely Ministers will be focused on a broad range of priority matters.  But one, if not already on the agenda, will certainly be worthy of some attention: the creation of a humanitarian corridor or pipeline for nations in the Pacific.

Discussion of this corridor is an important issue given the unique characteristics of Pacific nations and current conditions involving a major disruption of transportation networks and limited fallback options over a huge geographical expanse.  At the best of times, logistical air and sealift is a challenge in the Pacific.  In current trying circumstances, these challenges will loom ever larger.

Currently, the majority of nations in the Pacific are under some form of emergency lockdown and self-imposed isolation.  Enacted with little forewarning and preparation, there was often little opportunity to stockpile essential supplies, equipment and other requirements.  Now isolated from the rest of the world, these nations will have to rely on a limited stock of resources.  While mitigation measures now in place will hopefully avert a deterioration in conditions and facilitate a speedy return to normalcy, there is a need to be prepared for any eventuality.  In the event of a deterioration, we may expect a prolongation of the period in lockdown and isolation.  The limited resources available in many nations will need urgent replenishment, while desperate life-saving evacuations and the provision of critical medical supplies and equipment may be needed to address an escalating crisis.  Given the geographical distances involved in the Pacific, a timely response may not be forthcoming.

Compounding matters, there will be questions about how such lift may be generated, as nearly all commercial transportation networks will have been suspended.  In all likelihood, it will be the militaries of development partners that will be called upon to assist.  Coordination for this will be assisted by some prior discussion and agreement between nations and development partners.  An agreed outline of a pre-approved humanitarian corridor, for example, may help ease a smoother and more efficient deployment of lift capabilities delivering assistance.  These prior coordinating arrangements are all the more important in a context where extreme caution has to be maintained over the arrival and clearance of aircraft, ships and their cargoes.  Risks of any further transmission must be managed and minimized in any emergency assistance mission.

Beyond current emergency conditions, we should also keep in mind the medium and longer term needs of Pacific nations as they emerge out of the pandemic and embark upon recovery programs and a return to normalcy.  What might be the needs of these nations in that longer journey, and what lift requirements may be involved?  Considering that much of the rest of the world will be going through similar transitions, can we count on a speedy resumption of transportation connections in the Pacific to expeditiously facilitate such needs?  Or, as is more likely to be the case, will there remain significant gaps and deficiencies, requiring supplementary capabilities in the shape of development partner militaries?  Yet again, in this circumstance, some modality such as a pre-agreed humanitarian corridor may serve a helpful purpose in this medium term setting.

The present pandemic is unprecedented in many different ways.  In past disasters in the Pacific, affected nations could almost always count on the assistance of development partners.  Now, despite comforting reassurances, the prospect of an uncertain response, needs to be seriously contemplated.  These development partners themselves are gripped by the same pandemic, and grappling with its many serious consequences, and their own emergency lockdowns and isolation measures.  With capacities stretched just meeting national needs and priorities, it will be challenging balancing these against an enduring commitment to regionalism and regional assistance.  Successfully managing such a dilemma implies an ever greater need to be anticipatory in identifying needs and coordinating among diverse partners a sharing of roles and capabilities – in advance – that might be brought to bear at the right time and place.  In light the vast distances in the Pacific, and the limited reach of sea and airlift capabilities of traditional partners such as Australia, France and New Zealand combined, a proactive coordinated approach anchored around a humanitarian corridor construct, may be sensible.  Indeed, the expansion of the dialogue around this issue to include additional partners in geographical proximity with significant lift capabilities, such as the United States and Japan, should be a priority.

Dr. Alfred Oehlers is a Professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, Hawaii

*The views in this article are the personal opinions of the author and are not representative of the United States Government, Department of Defense, or the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies.

By Nic Maclellan in Funafuti, Tuvalu

In a marathon leaders’ retreat that continued well into the night, with often heated debate, the Pacific Islands Forum has issued a joint communique and a new declaration on climate change.

Throughout this week in Tuvalu, the Australian delegation has defended a series of negotiating red lines against strong pressure from island leaders, seeling more urgent responses to the climate crisis from the largest Forum member.

During the final development of the Forum’s annual agenda, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Minister for International Development and the Pacific Alex Hawke and Australian officials insisted on the removal of references to coal, establishing a target below 1.5 degrees Celsius for global warming, and being required to announce next year a strategy for zero emissions by 2050.

Islands Business asked Prime Minister Morrison if the pleas of island leaders had persuaded him to change his government’s policy, refusing to make further financial contributions to the Green Climate Fund. He replied: “No, it hasn’t, because I just want to invest directly in helping the Pacific family here. I don’t need to send a cheque via Geneva or New York or wherever it has to go.” The GCF Secretariat is actually in Incheon, South Korea, which he should know, given Australia was previously co-chair of the global climate fund.

Tense arguments in the retreat

In the end, however, all Forum members agreed to the “Kainaki II Declaration for Urgent Climate Change Action Now - Securing the Future of our Blue Pacific.”

Forum host Enele Sopoaga, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Vanuatu Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu and Prime Minister Morrison presented a united front at the post-conference press conference (delayed until Friday morning after leaders debated long into the night). But this diplomatic façade could not belie the damage done to Australia’s reputation and Morrison’s relationship with some leaders.

Sopoaga acknowledged that there were heated moments during the leaders retreat: "We expressed very strongly during our exchange, between me and Scott. I said: ‘You are concerned about saving your economies, your situation in Australia, I’m concerned about saving my people in Tuvalu and likewise other leaders of small island countries.’”

“That was the tone of the discussion. Please don’t expect that he comes and we bow down or that.

“We were exchanging flaring language, not swearing, but of course you know, expressing the concerns of leaders and I was very happy with the exchange of ideas, it was frank. Prime Minister Morrison, of course, stated his position and I stated my position and other leaders: we need to save these people.”

There were two occasions where the meeting almost broke down without agreement, but after a 12-hour marathon, a final compromise on wording was achieved. Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has used his Twitter account to express concern about the final compromises by some fellow Forum Island Countries, tweeting: “Watered-down climate language has real consequences – like water-logged homes, schools, communities, and ancestral burial grounds.”

After the meeting, Vanuatu Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu said: “Everyone had to shift their positions. It was very fierce and very frank, and some people just didn’t want to move. But in the end, everyone had to move a bit.”

Regenvanu told Islands Business that overall Vanuatu was happy with the final Kainaki II climate declaration, which will be presented to the UN Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit in September. Leaders will call on Secretary General Antonio Guterres to urgently appoint a Special Adviser on climate change and security.

“I think the wording is strong,” Regenvanu said. “There’s reference to 1.5 degrees throughout, there’s reference to the IPCC report throughout, there’s references to achieving net zero emissions, eliminating inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and a just transition away from fossil fuels. Most of the key language we want to be included that has not been included in the past is there.”

Leaders noted (but did not endorse) the proposal for a United Nations General Assembly Resolution seeking an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the obligations of States under international law to protect the rights of present and future generations against the adverse effects of climate change.

Climate demands

Despite the deletion of most references to coal and wordsmithing to give flexibility to all parties, the language of the declaration may cause some grief at home for Scott Morrison. His conservative Liberal/National Coalition government contains many people who are resistant to the Pacific’s ongoing call for urgent action on climate, including the closure of coal mines and reduction of fossil fuel exports.

In the face of ongoing climate denial in Australia amongst conservative members of the government, the Kainaki II declaration states: “The science is non-negotiable. Urgent action by the international community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is critical to keep us on the 1.5°C pathway.

“Right now, climate change and disasters are impacting all our countries. Our seas are rising, oceans are warming, and extreme events such as cyclones and typhoons, flooding, drought and king tides are frequently more intense, inflicting damage and destruction to our communities and ecosystems and putting the health of our peoples at risk. All around the world, people affected by disaster and climate change-induced displacement are losing their homes and livelihoods, particularly the most vulnerable atoll nations.”

Forum leaders welcomed the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), stating that it “remains the authoritative scientific body on climate change and is regarded as providing governments the best available science on climate change. The IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C indicates that in model pathways with no or limited overshoots of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, global net anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero around 2050.”

Important provisions of the declaration call on “all parties to the Paris Agreement to

meet or exceed their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in order to pursue global efforts to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this is critical to the security of our Blue Pacific.”

They called on G20 countries to formulate and communicate mid-century long-term low greenhouse gas emissions development strategies by 2020; rapidly implement their commitment to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies; and accelerate support for the work of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage.

New vision for Forum

Key decisions from the final communiqué include plans for the development of a vision statement on Pacific regionalism for coming decades, and a range of initiatives on Forum governance.

Leaders endorsed the development of the “2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, which must ensure social, cultural, environmental and economic integrity, sovereignty and security in order to protect people, place and prospects of the Blue Pacific”.

The Forum Secretariat is tasked to prepare a draft strategy for leaders’ consideration at next year’s Forum in Vanuatu. However, at their July meeting, Foreign Ministers stressed that there needed to be a mid-term target of 2030, with clear objectives set out over the next decade in line with the period of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Leaders endorsed the concept for the establishment of the regionally owned and led Pacific Resilience Facility, although there were some reservations from Fiji. Samoa has offered to host the new funding facility for resilience initiatives by island government and communities.

There were a range of decisions on oceans and fisheries policy, including moves towards a regular Regional Fisheries Ministers Meeting. Leaders reaffirmed their commitment to conclude negotiations on all outstanding maritime boundaries claims and zones, although there are many ongoing disputes between member states over conflicting claims.

Tuvalu Prime Minister Sopoaga confirmed: “We spoke very strongly against the leakage of nuclear waste into the Pacific and about the need to address them as urgently as possible.”

Leaders expressed concern “for the significance of the potential threat of nuclear contamination, World War II wrecks and unexploded ordnances to the health and security of the Blue Pacific her people and prospects, acknowledged the importance of addressing the long-standing issues of nuclear testing legacy in the Pacific and called for the operationalisation of the provisions of the Rarotonga Treaty, as necessary.”

To support Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine, who has pushed the issue of nuclear and toxic contaminants throughout her term, the Forum agreed to commission “a comprehensive, independent and objective scientific assessment of the contamination issue in the Pacific, including in the nuclear test site at Runit Island in the Marshall Islands”.

Leaders agreed to request a meeting with US President Donald Trump to discuss the current and emerging issues of the nuclear testing legacy in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and in the Blue Pacific.

The Forum endorsed an Action Plan to implement the Boe Declaration adopted at the 2018 Forum meeting in Nauru, and agreed to set up a Sub-Committee of the Forum Officials’ Committee on Regional Security.

Reflecting the multiple, conflicting positions on climate change during the week, and the demands of Smaller Island States (SIS), leaders “endorsed with qualification, the Summary of Decisions of the 28th Smaller Island States Leaders Meeting and directed the Secretariat to institute a process for tabling the SIS Leaders’ decisions at Leaders Meetings.”

For a full wrap up of the 50th Pacific Islands Forum, subscribe now for the next edition of Islands Business magazine 

By Nic Maclellan in Funafuti, Tuvalu

Members of the Pacific Islands Forum have urged Indonesia to take action on human rights violations in West Papua, and strongly encouraged Jakarta to facilitate a long-mooted visit by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

Regional Prime Ministers and Presidents met this week in Tuvalu for the 50th Pacific Islands Forum. Echoing the language of the Forum Foreign Ministers Meeting in July, the leaders “welcomed the invitation by Indonesia for a mission to West Papua (Papua) by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and strongly encouraged both sides to finalise the timing of the visit and for an evidence-based, informed report on the situation be provided before the next Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting in 2020.”

Human rights groups have long reported on violations by Indonesian police and military forces deployed in West Papua. However, concern has escalated since the Indonesian army extended operations around Nduga in West Papua last December, following the shooting of construction workers on road-building operations through the regency. Since then, West Papuan human rights monitoring groups have reported that more than 30,000 people have been displaced, with healthcare facilities and schools damaged during Indonesian military operations. The Jakarta Post has reported that at least 182 displaced people have died from exposure and lack of food after fleeing their homes since December.

Lobbying the leaders

In recent years, West Papua has been a constant topic on the agenda of the 18-member Pacific Islands Forum. This week in Funafuti, members of the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP), including chair Benny Wenda and spokesperson Jacob Rumbiak, have been lobbying island leaders for support. Indonesia too has a delegation in Funafuti to participate in the Post-Forum Dialogue, including West Papuan lobbyist Nick Messet.

West Papua was a key issue raised in the formal dialogue between Forum leaders and civil society organisations (CSO) on Wednesday. CSO leaders presented a wide-ranging statement which included the request “that Forum Leaders call on Indonesia to immediately allow access of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN special mandate holders to West Papua….None of us can speak of an inclusive and peaceful Pacific and remain silent on the serious human rights issues for West Papuans. We call on Pacific Leaders to observe the importance of human rights in all parts of our region.” 

Tongan Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva responded emotionally to their call for action on West Papua.

“We should not let others control us. We should stand together in solidarity in support of the people of West Papua”, said Pohiva.

Speaking after the CSO dialogue, General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches Reverend James Bhagwan said: “I’m very encouraged by the discussions and that they have made this a priority in the leaders retreat. We try to look at this not just as a moral issue, but to be pragmatic about the realities, knowing that there are strong partnerships between Indonesia and some Forum island countries – that was mentioned by Fiji and Australia.”

“Coming from a human rights perspective, you cannot talk about a Pacific household if people are excluded from that,” Reverend Bhagwan said. “You can’t talk about Pacific regionalism if there’s no Pacific solidarity. The inaction by Pacific leaders on West Papua speaks very loudly to that, and I think that was recognised. The responses from Tonga, from Samoa, even Kiribati and of course Vanuatu – with their consistent support – was very important today.”

Rev. Bhagwan stressed: “You can’t build a house and then ignore people. That recognition of one family, the Pacific family, is very key to this.”   

Leaders want action by Indonesia

In their final communique, Forum leaders “reaffirmed recognition of Indonesia’s sovereignty over West Papua (Papua). Leaders acknowledged the reported escalation in violence and continued allegations of human rights abuses in West Papua (Papua) and agreed to re-emphasise and reinforce the Forum’s position of raising its concerns over the violence.”

ULMWP Chair Benny Wenda said: “I welcome all the leaders’ decision. This is the first time that Forum leaders have called for a United Nations human rights visit. It’s time for Indonesia to allow the UN Human Rights Commissioner to come to visit West Papua. I think it’s an important step now.”

While the resolution makes no mention of the right to self-determination, Wenda welcomed the decision as a positive move forward: “This is step by step. This is the starting point and the fact that the resolution is a really, really important step for us to go to another level.”

Vanuatu has long championed the West Papuan cause and lobbied strongly for action. Vanuatu Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu said: “It’s the resolution we wanted so we’re very grateful to all the Pacific Island leaders. The resolution from the leaders and the very strong statements made in the CSO session on this issue shows that they all recognise that something more has got to be done, because the human rights situation is worsening.”

Regenvanu said he hoped that the UN Human Rights Commissioner could provide an “honest and frank account” to the next Forum leaders’ meeting

“The resolution is the result of the worsening situation just in the last year for human rights in West Papua,” he said. “In the last few years, the resolution has been about constructive engagement with Indonesia on the issue. But I think the leaders realised that the open and constructive engagement had not necessarily achieved the improvements in human rights that are desired. I think the situation in Nduga over the last year has caused Forum leaders to elevate the tone of the resolution.”

With his country scheduled to host the 51st regional summit next year in Port Vila, the Vanuatu Foreign Minister said: “We also want a report back by the next Forum so the leaders can consider it under this agenda, which is a standing agenda of the Forum.”

“The onus is now on the Secretariat of the Forum and the member states of PIF, including the members that are part of the Human Rights Council, that they need to make sure the Commissioner gets to go,” he said. “Indonesia should see that there is a very clear concern and we hope this this statement will make them come to the table and work with the Commissioner to make sure this mission does happen.”

By Nic Maclellan in Funafuti, Tuvalu.

Most Forum island countries have already accessed funding from the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the global climate finance mechanism created under the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change. It’s a crucial source of funding for developing countries, operating under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Around the world, Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) already have 24 approved GCF projects, with 11 already under implementation. So far, US$5.2 billion has been programmed from the fund, with $830 million (16 per cent) going to SIDS – and half of this amount has gone to Pacific island states.

Now there’s a need to replenish the US$10.3 billion fund, for future grants after 2020. Starting from October, the GCF is seeking to replenish the fund with significant pledges from OECD countries and voluntary contributions from large developing nations.

Jerry Velasquez is Director of the GCF’s Mitigation and Adaptation Division. He attended this week’s Sautalaga Climate Dialogue in Tuvalu, and met with a range of Pacific delegations at the Pacific Islands Forum to discuss future co-operation with the GCF.

Velasquez told the Sautalaga that Pacific governments need to address three core issues for future GCF funding. The first is easing access to the GCF, through the Readiness Fund (a GCF mechanism that provides preliminary finance for preparation of the technical and scientific studies required to make a full bid to the fund). There’s also a need to increase country capacity to manage and implement programs.

Velasquez called for a strategic plan to increase financing for Pacific SIDS. With more funding available in coming years, there will be growing competition for the proportion of GCF funding specifically allocated to Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

“It would be useful for governments to raise their ambitions and articulate their priorities,” he said. “Some are already clear, some are not, but we need to understand the common issues. There are ideas for low-emissions shipping, most countries have problems accessing water, they have a lot of countries with coastal protection issues and some would like to increase the percentage of renewable energy     

Accessing the fund

In recent years, there have been significant debates on the GCF Board between developed and developing countries on how to improve access to the fund. The GCF Readiness Fund provides resources to hire or deploy technical staff to prepare for a major bid to the GCF. It’s a crucial mechanism for Smaller Island Developing States that often lack the staff to deal with the complex international bureaucracy.

Exsley Taloiburi is Climate Change Financing Adviser at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat in Suva. Taloiburi told Islands Business: “We have ten of our Forum island countries that have already had access to the GCF Readiness Fund. Although countries are eligible to access US$1 million per year, a number of our countries have not fully utilised that cap. Countries that have accessed funds from the GCF envelope have accessed well below $1 million a year.

“But it’s not a prerequisite – they can just go and apply for project funding instead of accessing GCF readiness funds. Some of these countries feel that they have the enabling environment to absorb the funds that the GCF is offering, not only the scale of funding, but the reporting requirements and other requirements for Forum Island countries.”

Despite these successes, the GCF Secretariat has recently approved changes to further cut back the bureaucracy.

Jerry Velasquez noted: “The debate is not just the size of the Readiness Funding but how we deploy this funding more easily. One innovation that’s already been approved is three-year readiness grants. Instead of applying each and every year, you apply for it once for three years, up to a maximum of US$3 million. This cuts the bureaucracy by one third and allows for some stability in hiring staff and capacity building.

“The other thing that’s an innovation here that could be applied elsewhere is the regional readiness, because you cannot do everything by yourself. You cannot hire a technical expert on water and fisheries and everything in each and every country. So, you could draw down resources regionally.”

Forum host Enele Sopoaga, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, welcomed the notion of regional readiness systems.

“I’m welcoming the GCF’s presentation saying there’s the capacity for readiness resources to be packaged and bundled for a regional facility,” Sopoaga said. “I can see there could be a way forward for this to be approved, dispersed and housed in the Pacific from which island countries can draw from as readiness resources. That could be an innovative way of moving forward. But it’s not only access, but also implementation and disbursement – for funds to be disbursed as soon as possible in order to help the island countries survive.”

Battle over replenishment

At the global climate negotiations in 2010, OECD countries agreed to an annual global target of US$100 billion in public and private funds by 2020, to support developing country efforts to adapt to climate change and cut greenhouse gas emissions. As they signed the Paris Agreement in 2015, industrialised countries reaffirmed this objective, and made a series of recommendations about the effective use of these resources.

In Paris, countries pledged to review the global US$100 billion climate funding target by 2025, but this commitment comes in a separate “decision text” rather than the binding agreement.

The GCF began operations in 2015, but is about to launch a replenishment round, to increase OECD pledges beyond the current level of US$10.3 billion.

However, the Morrison government in Australia has now joined the Trump administration in refusing to commit further funding to the GCF replenishment. In 2014, former US President Barack Obama pledged US$3 billion to the fund. Trump administration however has refused to commit the remaining US$2 billion, a significant hole in the GCF’s budget. The chaos surrounding Brexit has also complicated the delivery of funding pledges from the UK government, given possible fluctuations in the value of the British pound.

Throughout this week’s Pacific Islands Forum in Funafuti, there’s been growing concern over Australia’s position. Despite an Australian announcement that A$500 million of re-badged aid will be directed at climate infrastructure and resilience projects across the Pacific, some island leaders are concerned that the refusal to commit more funds to the GCF will undercut international efforts to reach and increase global financing targets.

Jerry Velasquez welcomes the news that some European countries are increasing their support.

“What’s happening now is that some of our donors are doubling their pledges,” he said. “Germany and Norway have just announced doubling their funds – Germany to 1.5 billion euros. The question is, what will happen with the rest? It’s up to the countries of the Pacific to call for a strong replenishment. The more money that gets into the replenishment, the more money they will get.”

That call was taken up in this week’s Tuvalu Declaration on the Climate Change Crisis, which welcomes “the significant role that the GCF plays in supporting developing countries in their efforts to address climate change. We call for a prompt, ambitious and successful replenishment of the GCF.”

Partners in implementation

Velasquez noted: “We also need to get the partners in place, because more often than not, the limiting factor is the partners. We need more different kinds of partners. Some entities like the Ministry of Finance of the Cook Islands is limited to project management for up to US$10 million. Obviously, that limits the type of things they could do.

He encouraged greater private sector involvement in leveraging resources: “Ideally, we should have a commercial bank that have a larger ability to program money so they could access concessional loans. Fiji has the Fiji Development Bank that is larger, but you have very few entities here in the Pacific that can channel non-grant instruments, such as concessional loans, equity and guarantees. That’s where you can leverage private sector finance.”

International climate finance is managed through National Implementing Entities (NIE) – often government departments, development banks, technical agencies or other organisations that can manage public finance or implement projects.

Exsley Taloiburi explained that national and regional bodies around the region had already achieved GCF accreditation: “In the Pacific, the NIEs we have with the GCF are the Cook Islands Ministry of Finance and the Fiji Development Bank, while the Regional Implementing Entities (RIEs) we have at the moment are the Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP), the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Micronesian Conservation Trust.

“The Cook Islands Ministry of Finance obtained accreditation to the Kyoto Protocol Adaptation Fund initially, and they applied through the fast-tracking process and they were able to get GCF accreditation as well. Tuvalu’s Ministry of Finance has just been granted NIE status to the Adaptation Fund, and I think that puts them in a very good position to be able to apply for fast-tracking for NIE status to the GCF.”

In recent years, regional organisations like PIFS and SPREP have expended a lot of effort to share success stories between Forum member countries, to see what works best in accessing funding or implementing successful projects.

“There can be good South-South learnings, where Forum Island Countries can learn from each other,” said Taloiburi. “One way to do this that we’ve been working on is South-South attachments between different countries that allows countries to explore and understand other options.

“I think information sharing is really critical for Forum Island Countries. We’ve undertaken National Climate Finance Assessments in 11 of the 14 FICs and there are a lot of very good lessons that can be shared. A number of countries have established national sustainable funding mechanisms, such as the Tuvalu Climate and Disaster Survival Fund, or Fiji’s Green Bonds.”

By Nic Maclellan in Funafuti, Tuvalu

As Prime Minister Scott Morrison heads to this week’s 50th Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu, Australia has announced that it will commit new climate funding to the Pacific.

Morrison pledged A$500 (US$338) million over five years from 2020 – drawn from existing aid funds – to help Pacific nations invest in renewable energy and climate and disaster resilience.

Before leaving for Funafuti, he stated: “The Pacific is our home, which we share as a family of nations. We’re here to work with our Pacific partners to confront the potential challenges they face in the years ahead. The $500 million we’re investing for the Pacific’s renewable energy and its climate change and disaster resilience builds on the $300 million for 2016-2020. This highlights our commitment to not just meeting our emissions reduction obligations at home but supporting our neighbours and friends.”

The hope that this funding would quiet Pacific anger about the Australian government climate policies has been quickly disabused by Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga, host of this week’s summit in Funafuti.

Speaking after the Smaller Island States (SIS) meeting on Tuesday morning, the Forum host welcomed Australian financial support for climate action, but didn’t mince his words: “No matter how much money you put on the table, it doesn’t give you the excuse not to do the right thing – that is, cutting down your emissions, including not opening your coal mines.”

In a major blow to island partners, the Australian pledge is not new and additional funding, but will be drawn from Australia’s overseas aid budget. As part of the Pacific “step up”, the island region has benefitted from stronger aid flows in the last few years – at the expense of Asia and Africa where development budgets have been slashed. But Australian Official Development Assistance (ODA) is at the lowest ever proportion of Gross National Income since figures were first collated in the 1970s. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s 2019-20 budget proposes further reduction of the overall aid budget over the next four years.

The new climate change and oceans package includes a new climate window in the A$2 billion Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific (AIFFP). This new mechanism, with $1.5 billion in loans and $500 million in grants, was announced in November 2018 as a counter to Chinese infrastructure investment in the islands, through China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and Exim Bank and state-owned corporations.

Love affair with coal

Prime Minister Morrison has previously said that Australia will meet its target for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions “at a canter.” But many Pacific island countries would like Australia to start galloping. The pledged 25-28 per cent reduction of emissions from 2005 levels is reliant on the use of carryover credits from the Kyoto Protocol, a policy opposed by many island governments, which want Canberra to rule out the use of Kyoto carry-over units to meet its Paris Agreement commitments.

Australia’s reputation as a climate partner in the Pacific has taken another blow with the opening up the Galilee Basin to coal mining, with the recently approved Carmichael coal mine proposed by the Indian corporation Adani. The need for a rapid transition away from coal was repeatedly raised at the Sautalaga Climate Dialogue on Monday, coordinated by Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) and hosted by the Tuvalu government.

In his opening speech to the Sautalaga, Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama stated:

“Fiji recognises that coal has always been an important part of the Australian economy, as an export revenue earner and for your national energy security. It has enabled you to build a strong economy that also gives you the means to support our region. We respect the fact that you have your interests and we have ours. And just as we don’t expect to be told what to do in pursuit of our own interests, it is not for us to be prescriptive about how you should run your affairs.

“Having said that, I appeal to Australia to do everything possible to achieve a rapid transition from coal to energy sources that do not contribute to climate change. That transition should be just for your own people and just for us here in the Pacific, where we face an existential threat that you don’t face and challenges we expect your governments and people to more fully appreciate.

“Put simply, the case for coal as an energy source cannot continue to be made if every nation is to meet the net zero emission target by 2050 that has been set by the UN Secretary General and every other responsible leader of the climate struggle.”

Island concern about Australia’s love affair with coal was clearly expressed in the “Tuvalu Declaration on Climate Change for the Survival of Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS)” – the outcome statement from the Sautalaga dialogue. The declaration is unambiguous, reaffirming “the UN Secretary General’s call for an immediate global ban on the construction of new coal fired power plants and coal mines and calls on all countries to rapidly phase out their use of coal in the power sector.”

Funding for action

At the 2016 Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting, then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pledged to make a “step change” in Australia’s engagement with the region. Two years later, speaking at Lavarack army barracks, his successor Scott Morrison put some meat on the bones of this pledge, detailing Australia’s “step up” in the Pacific.

Since taking over the leadership of the Coalition, Morrison has travelled to Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, seeking to rebuild relations that suffered during the 2013-15 Abbott government. Tony Abbott’s government  slashed the climate budget, abolished the carbon tax created by the outgoing Labor government, and abandoned Australian support for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) – ironically, Australian diplomat Ewen Macdonald was co-chair of the GCF in its early years, and now serves as head of the new Office of the Pacific within Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Since that time, Australia climate finance has slowly risen, from A$229 million (2014-15) to A$268 million (2017-18). The new funding pledge was promoted in Funafuti by Alex Hawke, Minister for Pacific and International Development, who stated that Australia was listening to Pacific concerns: “Very much we want to say to Fiji and to all of the member states here, that Australia is listening on climate. We will be doing more, we will be spending more through our package and dealing with the adaptation, the resilience needs of the Pacific.”

Hawke stated: “For the first time, Australia will spend $500 million through our aid budget on climate Pacific projects. That includes things like our Infrastructure Financing Facility, which will of course leverage private sector investment into the region through a new climate window. Bilaterally, we will be meeting with every country to discuss their needs and you’ll see that money flow for climate resilience projects and climate adaptation.”

The Turnbull government made an initial contribution of $200 million to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the global mechanism that provides grants and loans to developing nations for climate projects. However, Scott Morrison has refused to commit any further funding to the GCF, stating: “This isn't cheques that we're sending off to some remote fund in Geneva to spend who knows where. We stopped that practice” (The GCF Secretariat is actually located in Korea.)

The government’s policy reaffirmed by Alex Hawke in Funafuti: “We are not going to replenish the fund that you mentioned. Obviously, we think we can, on a bilateral level and a local level in our neighbourhood, in our backyard, do more and do more good ourselves.”

This decision will disappoint Forum island leaders. They have clearly reaffirmed their support for GCF replenishment in the Tuvalu Declaration on Climate Change, which welcomes “the significant role that the GCF plays in supporting developing countries in their efforts to address climate change. We call for a prompt, ambitious and successful replenishment of the GCF and in particular increase the amount and effectiveness of climate change to support Pacific Small Island Developing States.”

Hawke noted that: “Australia’s approach is going to be to have bilateral meetings on climate to identify the needs and the reason is every country has some particular needs in terms of climate adaptation, mitigation and resilience.”

Speaking after the Smaller Island States (SIS) meeting in Funafuti, Prime Minister Sopoaga stressed the importance of common action, suggesting that bilateral dialogue avoided the responsibility for collective action.

“We want global actions and the necessity to replenish global and predictable financial resources under the GCF is very, very critical. The reason we support that is because of the verification process, to make sure this is going directly to the adaptation needs of countries who are affected, focussing on humanitarian needs, not on political needs, helping the people of the Small Island Developing States to adapt to the impact of climate change.”

Sopoaga stressed that the forthcoming replenishment round of the GCF should not be undercut by the decision of Australia and the United States to abandon the global climate funding mechanism: “The announcement of additional funding by Australia is there, but certainly my hope is that it will not go to undermining what is needed in the global context.”

Some countries may regard the Australian approach as divide and rule, given many island leaders want the region to speak with a common voice, especially in the lead up the UN Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit in September. The decision by PSIDS to release the Tuvalu Declaration before the final Forum communique is a sign that many island leaders don’t want their strong message to be watered down before the UN summit.

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