Oct 22, 2019 Last Updated 2:59 AM, Oct 16, 2019

By Makereta Komai, PACNEWS Editor in Funafuti

After a marathon meeting, Pacific Islands Forum Leaders have issued a communique and a climate change declaration with qualifications in Tuvalu

Chairman of the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Summit, Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga of Tuvalu was particularly happy with the affirmation of declaration on climate change for the survival of Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS).

“The Forum leaders agreed with no brackets on the declaration for climate change. It’s quite an outcome and we are happy that we have the endorsement from members with qualification.

Admitting that Australia was the only member to make a  qualification, Prime Minister Sopoaga said the communique still reflected the language used in Nauru last year.

“I think we can say that we should have done more work for our people but it’s a matter for our people to reflect more. I seek the respect and understanding of the Pacific people on the outcome which is really a negotiated outcome and still contains some references to the United Nations Secretary General’s message to accelerate actions against climate change and that’s the way forward. It provides a basis for stronger Pacific presentation in New York and we have to live with that.

Sopoaga said the SIS climate change declaration was endorsed in full. A number of Forum members have said they will not sign up to document they did not negotiate.

“It is there and the language will never change and not a single t or comma was taken out. That was the ultimate objective.

“We can work together as a Forum family by coming here in this location, the Kainaki Rua, where we have the ocean and the lagoon on the other side which further amplifies the extreme vulnerability of Tuvalu. I am sure Leaders have taken note of this and are focused on the survival of the Pacific. We ask please understand this – our people are dying," said Sopoaga.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison held a different view on the two outcome statements from the Forum Leaders Retreat.

“We worked through issues in a spirit of commitment. It commits us to realise that here in the Pacific, the impact of climate change and rising sea level is real and happening to them right now and has been for some time, so the actions and directions that are set out in both those documents speak about commitments to address those issues.

“It’s a general statement and what that means is that what the Smaller Island States (SIS) agree to is not binding on the rest of the members.

The Australian leader, who many speculated was isolated during the Leaders Retreat, denied being left out by the group

“No Australia was not isolated at all. We agreed to our communique and the Smaller Island States statement was exactly the same as what was agreed to in Nauru last year.

The Australian leader praised his New Zealand counterpart, Jacinda Ardern for the way she worked with Pacific leaders at the Retreat.

“We don’t always have to agree and but when we disagree we do it well. I am all for lively debate and discussion. We’ve got to learn to disagree better, showing respect to one another as we did last night, showing respect to the existential challenges that faces our region."

Australia, Morrison said is here in the region to stay and it is committed to supporting its ‘family’ in the Pacific.

“What we are doing is we want to want to help our family in the Pacific with resilience challenges of climate change. We are just going to do that directly and get on with it. We’ll do it quicker, we’ll do it better and we will do it with greater partnerships.

“I am accountable to the Australian public and I came here with a very strong record to demonstrate what we have done to turn our situation to reduce our emissions to meet our 2030 target.

He revealed that Australia has invested AUD$500 million (US$339 million) this financial year, which includes AUD$200(US$135 million) million through the Global Climate Fund. "That money is going into serious resilience work right across the world particularly the Pacific. And what we are doing at the end of this financial year is putting down another AUD$500 million and that is going here in the Pacific to address resilience. That is big commitment,"  Morrison told journalists after the Retreat after 10pm Thursday night.

The Australian PM maintains the reliance on coal to provide energy is falling.

“That is expected to continue to happen as the economy goes through a transition, not just in the next ten years, 20 and 30 years. What Australia has done in the last six years is that it has taken what was a 700 million tonne deficit in what we were expecting in 2020 in our projection of carbon emission and turned that around in a AUD$300 million (US$203 million) surplus. So Australia’s action on climate change has produced a more than 1 billion tonne turn around on carbon emission," said Morrison

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.

Swimming in rising waters

By Nic Maclellan (Islands Business magazine) in Funafuti, Tuvalu

As Pacific leaders and officials begin arriving for the 50th Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu, they’re greeted by Tuvaluan children waving flags. But the children are seated in water, symbolising the rising tide that threatens the vulnerable atoll nation.

The forecourt of Funafuti airport has been transformed, with the creation of a symbolic village on a small island, surrounded by water. As dignitaries arrive, they must walk past young children immersed in water, waving the national flags of Forum member countries.

It’s the first time since 1984 that Tuvalu has hosted the Pacific Islands Forum. But for the Polynesian nation of just 11,000 people, whose land is just metres about sea level, it’s an important moment to raise awareness of the challenge of climate change.

Arriving leaders are directed to a notice: “Before us we see the devastating effects of climate change on our children: sea level rising, land erosion, cyclone damage. Threats such as these are ever present for Pacific island nations. In your meetings this week, remember: we must act before it is too late, we must save Tuvalu to save the world.”

Young people in Tuvalu are also having their say, organising a Climate Youth Forum on 1-2 August. Youth delegates have presented Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga with the “Funafuti Youth Declaration on Climate Change”, calling on the government to declare a state of Climate Change emergency.

The youth declaration states: “We are facing a climate change crisis and urgently call on governments, representatives of industry and individuals to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas pollution and to reduce their carbon footprint…. Food and water security is critical for all of us and we all must take action to ensure our future. It is our firm belief that we have a future on our islands and will not give up.”

The youth delegates propose a range of initiatives, including: strategies for train the trainers in climate change awareness and actions; bans on the use of single use plastics; post-trauma counselling for people who have suffered from the impacts of climate change; and the creation of a Tuvalu Cultural Day to be held once a month “where the use of motorbikes and other petrol vehicles be banned and where we all eat local foods, such as fish caught from traditional methods, and to include cultural training to build the understanding of youth.”

Solidarity across the region

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will be attending this week’s regional summit for the first time, as part of his policy dubbed the “Pacific step-up.” Australia is the largest Forum member and a crucial development partner with Forum island countries. But there are stark differences over climate policy, given the lack of ambition in Australian targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions, Canberra’s failure to pay its fair share of the 2020 global target for climate finance, and the Morrison government’s support for the expansion of coal mining and exports.

Speaking to journalists before this week’s Forum meeting, Tuvalu Prime Minister Epele Sopoaga stressed that the regional summit would aim to build solidarity between Forum member states, despite the gulf in climate policy between Australia and its island neighbours.

“I think it is critical that we try to enhance or ‘step up’ our commitment to solidarity, working together on our common goals that we share,” Sopoaga said. “Where we differ, probably those issues could be left for experts to deal with at operational levels. But we really need to step up our leadership solidarity, taking account of the achievements we’ve done over the past years. I’m totally committed to further building the trust and respect amongst the leaders and the nations.”

Prime Minister Sopoaga stressed the importance of the humanitarian impacts of climate change, and the many ways that the largest Forum members are inter-twined with their smaller Pacific neighbours. He noted that there were large Pasifika diaspora communities in Australia and New Zealand, but also many Australians and Kiwis – “your children and grandchildren” – working and living in the islands.

“We have to remind Morrison that Australians include Tuvaluans as well,” he said. “There are Tuvaluan families there in Australia. There are huge communities of Polynesians and other Pacific Islanders in New Zealand. Scott Morrison, you have amongst your country Tuvaluans, Fijians, all countries that are represented here in the Pacific.

“Your policies about coal mining, releasing greenhouse gasses – regardless of how much money you give in the ‘step-up’ policy, it doesn’t mean anything. Why? Because you are helping to have serious implications on your own people who are living in Tuvalu and Kiribati.”

Sopoaga argued for a focus on the direct impacts of climate change, and the need for leadership in climate action.

“We need to bring these people connections more visible to the leaders, so they are not driven by the politics of the unions back in Australia or by the industry and Adani coal mining,” he said. “Bring the real effects on people on the ground to the attention of these leaders. If they don’t accept it, I don’t think we can call them leaders. I don’t think they are serious about saving the people, their own people.”    

Resisting climate displacement

Neighbouring island countries such as Kiribati have discussed the concept of “migration with dignity”, offering opportunities to migrate for people displaced by the adverse effects of climate change. But Sopoaga stressed that his nation was not ready to accept this fate.

“We in Tuvalu have been trying to build the trust and conviction that we can still do something – not to give up, but to do something to save the islands, to save Tuvalu,” he said. “We believe that relocation is going to be a cheap cost to those who caused global warming and climate change.”

He noted: “It will be so easy for them to pass a resolution in the United Nations: ‘We resolve to look for money to relocate these guys to somewhere safe.’ But there is nowhere safe in the world because of climate change.

“I think for such a resolution to be brought up in the UN, it’s immoral and inhuman, and will not stop the causes of climate change. I think it’s self-defeating and therefore in Tuvalu we say ‘No, we are going to stay!’”  

On 12 August, the day before the formal opening of the Pacific Islands Forum, the host government has organised a Sautalaga dialogue, to look at responses to the global challenge of climate change. The climate debate will then be a feature of the official summit, from 13-16 August.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will be at this year’s Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting in Tuvalu, and Foreign Minister Marise Payne says she is keen to get to Papua New Guinea soon “to  visit our new friends in government.”

Minister Payne made the comments in a speech before media and diplomats at a Press Club lunch in Suva today.

The Minister was in Fiji  just a week after being sworn in as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women, following the Liberal/National coalition’s win in Australia’s recent federal election. This week Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also been in Solomon Islands, meeting with the new government of Manasseh Sogavare.

Minister Payne says both visits show the importance of the Pacific islands to Australia.

She revealed that Australia has begun work on a joint trade and economic scoping study to look at creating more opportunity for Australia and Fijian businesses.

“That work began literally last week and is going to be finalised by the end of July. I very much look forward to the findings of the independent team that will shortly be in Fiji to engage with government and the business community.”

Australia’s record on climate change and the lack of ambition in its targets to cut emissions has been widely criticised by Pacific leaders. However today Payne said: “For Australia’s part, we are on track to meet – indeed to exceed – our commitments to the year 2020 under the Paris Agreement, and making progress towards our 2030 target,” while also commending Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama for his leadership in climate change negotiations.

Minister Payne’s program also involved visits to the Blackrock Camp in Nadi, breakfast with female MPs, and a meeting with advocates against gender based violence at the House of Sarah.

Details of a possible visit to meet with PNG’s new Prime Minister, James Marape and his cabinet, will be announced at a later date.

Canberra, Australia - Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull revealed a new cabinet line-up on the eve of 2018 by announcing a reshuffle that saw five new cabinet members and the axing of infrastructure minister, Darren Chester. Former Social Services minister Christian Porter has become the country’s new Attorney General after George Brandis resignation.

Peter Dutton will lead Home Affairs, which will take responsibility for Australia’s intelligence agencies, national security and immigration.

There will be two more junior ministers beneath Dutton. Angus Taylor will be Minister for Law Enforcement and Cyber Security, while Alan Tudge will become Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs. Michaelia Cash, already Employment Minister, has been promoted to the new title of Minister for Jobs and Innovation.

She will surrender her title as Minister for Women, which has now gone to Kelly O’Dwyer. Bridget McKenzie, who recently replaced Fiona Nash as deputy leader of the Nationals, has also joined the Turnbull cabinet.

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