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Australia must listen to its Pacific neighbours on climate crisis

By Raijeli Nicole, regional director of Oxfam in the Pacific.

In the Pacific, the climate crisis is a matter of survival for our most vulnerable nations.

While Pacific peoples are resourceful and resilient, we depend on the cooperation of our bigger neighbours — Australia and New Zealand.

Pacific governments, civil society organisations and local communities are working with great determination to meet this defining challenge of our times. We have made bold national commitments, played a leading role in international negotiations, and are working to build the resilience of our communities in a rapidly changing world.

Right now, Australia’s rising pollution and burgeoning fossil fuel exports are undermining our future.

The toll is clear on Tuvalu

In Tuvalu, where Pacific Island Forum leaders will meet this week, the human toll and grave injustice of the climate crisis is clear for all to see. Nowhere does the land rise more than a few metres above sea level. At some points, the main island is barely 20 metres wide. Sometimes, waves wash right over the island from the ocean to the lagoon, destroying houses and crops and contaminating scarce water supplies.

It is not only people’s homes, food and water that are at stake. Put simply, Tuvalu’s very existence is threatened by the climate crisis.

People fear a loss of culture, of ancestral connection to their land and ocean, and even their very sovereignty should they be forced from their homes and land. Most do not see migration as an option in the face of the climate crisis.

Rather, we must do everything possible to drive down global climate pollution, adapt to the changes that can no longer be avoided, and uphold people’s right to remain where they are.

A woman in traditional clothing puts a large necklace on Scott Morrison.

Australia’s actions tell a different story

Here in the Pacific, the Australian Government’s recklessness in the face of the climate crisis — in full knowledge of its implications for our people — is hard to fathom.

Last year, Australia joined all members of the Pacific Islands Forum in endorsing the Boe Declaration on Regional Security.

The declaration reaffirms climate change as the single biggest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the people of the Pacific and members’ commitment to the Paris Agreement.

But Australia’s actions tell a different story. In the year following that historic declaration, Australia’s emissions have continued to climb and the Government has approved the opening up of the Galilee coal basin. It has stated it will not make further contributions to the Green Climate Fund — a critical source of support to vulnerable communities — and has refused thus far to heed the UN Secretary-General’s call for all countries to strengthen their commitments to the Paris Agreement before 2020.

It intends to further compromise its already-very-modest contribution by using “carry-over” from the Kyoto period to meet its 2030 target — a move ruled out by almost every other country and which undermines the spirit of cooperation and ambition on which the agreement depends.

Make no mistake — such actions are harming Australia’s friendships with the region, just as they are risking all of our futures.

Our message to Australia is simple

In October last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change laid out, in alarming terms, the consequences of failing to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and the scale and pace of action necessary to achieve this goal.

Global climate pollution must be roughly halved over the next decade and reach zero before mid-century. The Pacific, despite contributing almost nothing to global climate pollution and with few resources to respond to this crisis, is doing its part. Our message has been simple: if we can do it, so can you.

As Prime Minister Scott Morrison heads to Tuvalu, we urge the Australian Government, and all Australians, to listen to those on the frontlines of the climate crisis.

This year’s Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Meeting marks the start of a crucial 18-month window that will culminate at the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) in 2020.

It comes ahead of September’s United Nations Climate Summit, where all countries are expected to renew and strengthen their commitments to the Paris Agreement. Decisions taken over this period will profoundly affect the lives and prospects of communities worldwide, and in particular the peoples of the Pacific, far into the future.

For Australia to continue down its current path risks global heating in excess of 3 degrees and undermining all the progress of tackling climate change and poverty in recent decades.

This week’s meeting also comes at a time when great powers, from China to the United Kingdom, are stepping up their engagement with the Pacific.

For any country to be a trusted member of the Pacific family, and with that retain the ability to help shape the region’s future, they must respond to the number one priority of Pacific Island countries— climate change.

This article was first published by ABC News online on 12 August 2019