Aug 21, 2019 Last Updated 5:02 AM, Aug 16, 2019

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 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 leaders gather in Tuvalu for the 50th Pacific Islands Forum, Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine has criticised Australia’s reluctance to undertake a rapid transition from the use of coal and other fossil fuels.

“We’re discouraged and disappointed at the fact that Australia is still actively using coal for their own power generation, and it looks like that is something that is going to continue into the future,” she said. “That’s not helping the issue of emissions and we know they understand that.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrived in Tuvalu on Wednesday to attend his first Forum leaders’ retreat. Australia has announced a $500 million pledge of climate finance over the next five years (with funds simply rebadged from existing aid allocations). Despite this pledge, Heine has joined a number of leaders from vulnerable low-lying atoll nations – including host nation Tuvalu – who have been forthright in their criticism of the Morrison government’s ongoing commitment to the expansion of coal mining and exports.

Meeting before the formal summit, island leaders issued the “Tuvalu Declaration on Climate Change for the Survival of Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS).” The declaration supports “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.”

President Heine was also critical of the Morrison government’s decision to end Australian funding for the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the global funding mechanism that provides loans and grants for adaptation and emissions reduction in developing nations.

The GCF is about to launch a replenishment round, to increase OECD pledges beyond US$10 billion. Despite Australia’s stated belief that some island leaders prefer direct bilateral climate funding, the Pacific Small Islands Developing States (PSIDS) and the Smaller Islands States (SIS) caucus endorsed the Tuvalu Declaration on Tuesday. This statement clearly 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.”

US President Donald Trump has also refused to make further financial commitments to the GCF. RMI President Heine has asked Australia’s Scott Morrison to heed the call from islands neighbours.

 “We’ve also heard that they’re pulling back from funding the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which is also very disappointing,” she said. “In the case of the Marshall Islands, we’re beginning to work on our adaptation plan, as sea level rise gets more serious. We know that it will impact the Marshall Islands in very serious ways, so we have to have adaptation which we call a survival plan.”

President Heine said: “In order to make that plan a reality, we need that assistance, we need the donor community to come up with the resources that will help us adapt to our situation. If we’re talking about raising parts of the Marshall Islands, that’s an intensive proposition. We know we cannot do it on our own, so the necessity of an organisation like the Green Climate Fund comes into play. That’s why I hope the Australian government will reconsider their position when it comes to the Green Climate Fund.”

Meeting Donald Trump

Last May, President Heine joined Micronesian leaders Tommy Remengesau of Palau and David Panuelo of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) at the White House, in an unprecedented joint meeting with US President Donald Trump.

As the former colonial power, the United States has maintained Compacts of Free Association with RMI and FSM since 1986 and with Palau since 1994. But key provisions of the often-extended Compacts come to an end in 2023-4. The US freely associated states have been seeking a further extension of these funding, migration and services agreements.

President Heine said that the White House visit last May had been vital to gain presidential support for an extension of the US-RMI relationship.

     

“For us, basically that meeting was to get the US government to commit to start the negotiations for the Compact of Free Association for the freely associated states,” she said. “We’ve been talking with the US and with other officials along the way on getting that started. It has taken quite some time for decisions to be made. Now it’s been made. That was the most significant outcome of the meeting – nudging the US to make that decision.”

“It’s not just the Compact,” she noted. “It’s related to their interest in securing the region, because of the geopolitical issues that are emerging, one of which is with China. We know that’s partly the reason that nudged the US into making that decision to extend the Compact.”

The renewed engagement with the Compact states has been boosted by the geopolitical tensions between Washington and Beijing, amid US attempts to contain China’s political and economic rise. Even though RMI and Palau are both diplomatically aligned with Taiwan (and only FSM with the People’s Republic), there is significant economic investment from China in all three Micronesian nations.

President Heine stressed: “Right now, the percentage of our GDP that comes from China is so much higher than the US. It is telling us that the US needs to make the commitment to be there and set up businesses that would provide employment for our people. There are not enough jobs, so these are some of the things that the US has to make commitments to partner with us in economic development by establishing business in the country.”

Last week, President Heine and fellow Micronesian leaders met US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the Federated States of Micronesia. Offering new security agreements with the Compact States, Pompeo stated: "Today I'm here to reaffirm the United States will help you protect your sovereignty, your freedom and your right to live in freedom and peace."

But many island leaders want to redefine “security” in light of the climate and development crisis that faces their homes. At the 2018 Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru, all leaders signed the Boe Declaration, which looks to an "expanded concept of security inclusive of human security, humanitarian assistance, prioritising environmental security and regional cooperation in building resilience to disasters and climate change, including through regional cooperation and support."

President Heine hopes that renewed US interest in the islands region will take account of these island priorities and this broader definition of security.

“For us, we’ve made sure that we don’t talk just about the security issues and military issues that they’re concerned with,” she said. “Our definition of security is expanded to include economic development – making sure that people have food on the table, so that they’re secure in their place, in their homes. Also, we’re concerned about health security and the health of our people, because there’s a high rate of cancer and other disease as a result of the testing.

“When we talk about security with the US, we say it’s all of them, it’s not just about military security. It’s all about these other issues that are important for the security of the Marshallese people. We don’t want the Marshallese people to leave the Marshall Islands in search of jobs because they are not secure in their own homes.”

Nuclear legacies

The people of the Marshall Islands still live with the radioactive legacy of 67 US nuclear tests, conducted at Bikini and Enewetak atolls between 1946 and 1958. At recent Pacific Islands Forum meetings, President Heine has been seeking regional support for the clean-up of nuclear contaminants, especially from the Runit Dome.

Runit is a nuclear sacrifice zone established when the US military dumped radioactive contaminated materials in an old nuclear bomb crater on Runit Island in Enewetak Atoll. Decades after the nuclear waste was covered in a concrete cap, the dome is cracking and there is growing concern that radioactive isotopes are leaching into the marine environment.

“In respect of the Dome, we’re seeking a more comprehensive assessment of the situation,” Heine explained. “We do need to get a third party involved and do a comprehensive assessment of the whole situation – not just of the Runit Dome but also on other issues of contamination in our marine life. We do have fish poisoning on Kwajalein as a result of the run off from the dry-docking facilities of the military base.

“We want to have a comprehensive look at all of these so we know how to move forward. We have commissioned the National Nuclear Commission to come up with our strategy for justice, and that will be introduced into the Nitijela [RMI parliament] in the next two weeks.”

Last month, new research on radiation levels in RMI’s northern atolls was published in the prestigious US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Sixty-five years after the 1954 Bravo hydrogen bomb test, a Columbia University team led by Professor Emlyn Hughes found radiation levels orders of magnitude above background for plutonium, americium-241 and bismuth-207 in the top 25cm of sediment across the entire Bravo bomb crater.

The PNAS research papers also document measurements of cesium-137 in fruits from 11 islands on four atolls in the northern Marshall Islands. More than sixty years after the last test, contamination remains above limits set by international safety standards in some measured fruits. Cesium-137, present in the fallout, has a half-life of approximately 30 years and is readily absorbed by food crops, representing an ongoing health hazard for island inhabitants.

President Heine welcomed the PNAS research, but said it needed to be complemented by further studies. She believed that some people have heard about the new data, but it has not transformed their way of life.

“People are hearing that, but they’re still eating their traditional, indigenous food,” she said. “I’m not sure whether people have internalised that news. I don’t hear people saying that they’re not going to eat the sashimi or the fish, but it is a serious concern for us to look at.”

Micronesian neighbour Kiribati also suffered from Cold War nuclear testing by both the United Kingdom and United States. There were nine British atmospheric nuclear tests on Christmas (Kiritimati) Island in 1957-58. The UK government then allowed the Kennedy administration to use the military facilities for a further 24 US nuclear tests on Kiritimati in 1962.

To highlight the legacy of testing, RMI and Kiribati are currently discussing the organisation of a side event in New York in September, as world leaders gather for the opening of the UN General Assembly and the UN Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit.

President Heine welcomed the support of fellow members of the Pacific Islands Forum – especially the Smaller Island States (SIS) – who have made nuclear contamination a standing item on their annual agenda.

“I think we’re getting that support,” she said. “We’re getting it from Kiribati and from other countries that have been impacted by nuclear testing. The rest of the Pacific have been very solid on supporting us, writing letters to the United Nations and the United States.”

She committed her nation to working on the Forum’s “Blue Pacific” agenda, including common regional issues on the ocean agenda, such as fisheries management, maritime surveillance and controlling Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.

“We have such a big EEZ and we have only two patrol boats to patrol our area,” she laughed. “I often give the example that it’s almost like having one pickup truck with a policeman, patrolling the entire state of Texas! That’s the size of the Marshall Islands when you look at it. So, to have only two patrol boats, we know we cannot cover the EEZ and make sure that it’s secure. We need the fishing nations that work with us to help us in this area.” 

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.

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