Pacific calls for climate action

Nic Maclellan, Island Business Magazine

23 Nov, 2015

The adverse effects of climate change are setting back efforts to improve livelihoods, infrastructure and development in the Pacific islands. Our neighbours are calling for stronger, urgent action at the global climate negotiations in Paris.

The September 2015 Suva Declaration on Climate Change sets out objectives to be included in any agreement in Paris, on adaptation, emissions reductions, climate financing and loss and damage.

However many of these objectives run counter to Australia’s ongoing commitment to expand the mining and export of coal and other fossil fuels. The recent call for a global moratorium on new coal mines, launched by Kiribati President Anote Tong and other Pacific leaders, directly challenges plans to expand coal mining in Queensland’s Galilee basin.

The latest report of the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows that current pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will lead to a 2.7 degree Celsius (2.7⁰C) increase above pre-industrial levels of warming. Other studies suggest the rise may be nearer 3.4⁰C, a catastrophe that will devastate global biodiversity, economies and livelihoods. Both figures are well above the current political (not scientific) consensus of 2⁰C as a supposedly “safe” climate barrier.

In Paris, island nations will be seeking a clear mechanism for review of emissions targets, creating a pathway to limit warming well below 1.5⁰C. They also want any agreement to include a stand-alone mechanism on Loss and Damage, to address existing damage to water supply, agriculture and infrastructure caused by past emissions.

A central pillar of any deal in Paris will be adequate, predictable and sustained climate financing. With most climate funds currently flowing to major energy and infrastructure projects in larger developing nations, island states want to ensure that more revenues are focused on adaptation as well as mitigation, and that funding mechanisms are adapted to the capacities of small island states.

In Lima last year, Australia committed A$200 million over four years to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and recently resumed its role co-Chair of the Fund. These welcome steps follow a lengthy hiatus where the Abbott government refused to support or contribute to the Fund.

A central problem, however, is that neither major political party in Australia has explained how they will contribute our fair share of international climate financing. The current global objective of US$100 billion of public and private funds each year means we should contribute more than A$2 billion annually. Recent cuts to the Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget and the lack of other mechanisms to raise revenue (through carbon taxes, Tobin taxes or the like) means Canberra will struggle to match recent pledges from other OECD countries.

Minister for International Development and the Pacific Steven Ciobo has pledged that Australia will advocate for the interests of our Pacific neighbours. But islanders want to speak in their own voice and have created mechanisms - such as the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) group at the United Nations - to advance their own agenda on environment and development.

Like other island leaders, Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has highlighted the gap on climate policy within the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF).

“As we see it, Australia and New Zealand have been put to the test on climate change and been found wanting,” Bainimarama said last May. “It should be no surprise that we have formed the view that the very least, their position as full members of our island nation Forum needs to be questioned, re-examined and redefined. They simply do not represent our interests as we face this critical matter of survival.”

  • Nic Maclellan, Island Business Magazine
    Nic Maclellan, Island Business Magazine

    Nic Maclellan is a correspondent for Islands Business magazine (Fiji) and other regional media. After three decades of development work in the Pacific islands, he was awarded ACFID’s Outstanding Contribution to the Sector Award in 2015.

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