Australia accused of climate bullying

Pacific leaders have called out Australia for its incessant “bullying” over regional climate negotiations that dates back to 2015, according to a Pacific Research and Investigations report.

The beginning of a four-part investigation that was authorised by Greenpeace Australia Pacific stated the report demonstrates how Australia’s climate policies affect the security and survival of all Pacific islands and how its “stubborn and coercive” climate diplomacy has stymied regional climate action. 

The key findings that were released in November revealed accusations from the Pacific Island Forum meetings – in 2015, 2018 and 2019 – that the Australian government attempted to use its power and aid money to dilute the forum’s official statement and block regional consensus on emissions reduction.

That included blocking consensus on support of a 1.5-degree warming limit before the Paris climate change conference in 2015, objecting to the wording of a clause on “climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific” and coercing the islands’ leaders to water down a climate action, now declaration, in exchange for aid.

PIF lineup
Pacific leaders including that of Australia line up for the diplomatic pose at the 2019 forum. Picture: Pacific Island Forum secretariat

Ralph Regenvanu, Vanuatu opposition leader and former minister of foreign affairs from 2017 until 2020, told Greenpeace Australia Pacific that conditions were always a part of climate negotiations.

“I know because I was the one who proposed that wording, that specific sentence, and we had our people push to keep that wording in there and Australia was very against it,” Mr Regenvanu said.

“But in the end, we said this wording has to be there and there’s no way we’re going to compromise on this.”

National leaders negotiated the terms of the Boe declaration on regional security at the 2018 Pacific Islands Forum with particular attention paid to the first clause of its declaration on a commitment to the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Australia was again accused of censoring the wording of documents at the forum the following year when prime minister Scott Morrison and ex-minister for international development and the Pacific, Alex Hawke, drew several red lines through ending coal production, phasing out fossil fuel subsidies or setting a definitive plan for net-zero emissions by 2050 through more ambitious 2030 targets.

The final text of that Kainaki II declaration for urgent climate action now stated reduction strategies “may include” net zero carbon by 2050 after the biggest carbon capture and storage project in the world, Chevron’s gorgon gas plant in Western Australia, led to a rise in greenhouse gas emissions.

Australia’s government had refused to budge on climate change mitigation and, according to Mr Regenvanu, an impasse was only resolved after Mr Morrison agreed to declare a climate crisis for the Pacific island countries but not the Pacific region, that included Australia at a time when the country’s bushfire season had begun earlier than historically it would.

Mr Regenvanu added that: “I was very reliably informed of statements made by the prime minister of Australia concerning financial assistance to be given to the (Pacific) region as a way of trying to curb insistence on stronger language in the text (of the Kanaiki II declaration).”

The Australian stance prompted Fijian prime minister Frank Bainimarama to take to Twitter over his disappointment that “watered-down climate language has real consequences – like water-logged homes, schools, communities and ancestral burial grounds”.

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Claims also that Australia delivers “generous amounts” of climate aid to the Pacific have also been strongly questioned.

The report said: “It finds that some of the most expensive projects tagged as ‘significantly focused’ on climate adaptation in the Pacific islands have no link to climate change adaptation or improving the climate resilience of the Pacific. The lack of accuracy and/or transparency in this government’s climate aid reporting has led to a significant overestimation of how much funding Australia actually gives in climate aid to the Pacific islands.”

The Australian government’s use of aid funding as a bargaining chip to buy silence in climate change negotiations also came under the spotlight at the 2019 forum.

Enele Sopoaga, then-prime minister of Tuvalu and the host of the forum, felt that Australia’s pledge of $A500 million ($US355m) in climate aid felt like Pacific island leaders were being asked to “take the money and shut up”.

“No matter how much money you put on the table, that doesn’t give you the excuse not to do the right thing – that is cutting down your emissions, including not opening your coal mines,” he said.

While nations in the Asia-Pacific region are among some of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world, Pacific island nations collectively are responsible for 0.23 per cent of the world’s emissions.

Australia is the 15th largest emitter globally, responsible for 1.27 per cent of carbon dioxide despite housing just 0.3 per cent of the world’s population.

But that ranking jumps to fifth when its domestic emissions and carbon dioxide potential from its fossil fuel exports are combined.

According to the most recent research from the Australia Institute in 2019, an independent public policy think tank that carried out research on a broad range of economic, social, and environmental issues, Australia’s per capita emissions are the highest in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

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