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.