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Pacific leaders renew attacks on Australia

Two former heads of state in the Pacific have written an open letter to Australia to express bitter disappointment with the government over its years of climate inaction.

The letters that were published in a Greenpeace Australia Pacific research and investigations report have detailed what climate change means for small-island nations that are at risk of rising sea levels.

Tuvalu and Kiribati hope that Australia will step up and take leadership on the climate crisis “before it’s too late”, the report said.

Former Tuvaluan prime minister Bikenibeu Paeniu was looking out on the horizon from his home at the Funafuti lagoon on Fongafale Islet before he penned, “I ask myself, is it indeed the case that my children and their children will not continue to live here in our beautiful home in years to come?”

Australia accused of Pacific climate change con
Australia accused of climate bullying

Mr Paeniu was the first leader in the world to sign the UN framework convention on climate change at Rio de Janeiro back in 1992 that was never embraced by the Australians.

“Australia’s position on climate change has not changed and may even be getting worse when it comes to climate change in support of the Pacific island countries,” he wrote.

Nearly four decades on since he staunchly stood against a number of Australian prime ministers on their climate change position, Mr Paeniu said that they painted an unflattering picture of their country.

“In those days, I used to think of Australia’s climate change diplomacy as highly un-human,” he said.

“In other words, it had no Pacific human face in it. Sadly, it is still the same today.”

Mr Paeniu says he had witnessed Australia manipulating its position on climate change through the Pacific Islands Forum, the Pacific Community, the South Pacific Regional Environment Program and the rest of regional smaller institutions during his three stints in power that spanned a decade.

He said not only was the Australian government’s a “sad style of climate change diplomacy”, but it was a deliberate tactic.

Pacific leaders renew attacks on Australia
Former Tuvaluan prime minister Bikenibeu Paeniu fears view like those of Funafuti lagoon will disappear in generations to come. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

“Pacific island countries will go to international forums, including COP summits, with a compromised position on climate change divesting its true platform of demands to ensure our security, resilience and prosperity,” he said.

“This is really sad. But Australia doesn’t seem to care!”

Latest figures from the report suggests Australia is out of step with other major industrial players.

The United States committed to a nationally determined contribution of 50-52 per cent reduction from 2005 levels in their carbon emissions by 2030.

The European Union members were able to agree to a similar 51 per cent net domestic reduction while the United Kingdom updated its contribution to a significant 63 per cent.

But the Australian figure remains unchanged since its commitment in 2015, the current government that remains sceptical on global warming only accepting a mild reduction of 26-28 per cent.

Former Kiribati president Anate Tong has been an ardent critic of Australia’s climate change politics after it failed to provide for “our Pacific family” since the turn of the century.

“It has always been, and continues to be, our hope that Australia with its higher international profile would provide us and the international community with the leadership we need on an issue of such critical importance to our people, our Pacific family,” he wrote.

“The withdrawal of Australia’s support to climate financing, through suspending its contributions to the green climate fund, was a huge blow to our expectations of building much-needed climate resilience here in the Pacific islands.

“The recent announcement by the Australian prime minister (Scott Morrison), on the evening of his departure for COP26 (in November this year), of the government’s revised climate policy does not indicate a change of position on climate financing nor does its emission targets reflect a genuine or meaningful contribution to addressing this existential threat.”

The threat had first come about following reports of the intergovernmental panel on climate change detailing substantial increases in emissions of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels in developed nations.

Mr Tong was the first Pacific leader back in 2004 that stood up over the report’s projected rise in sea levels that it would pose a real threat to the survival for those islands living on the frontline.

“The fact no other leader made any reference to it in their statement worried me, and I wondered whether I might be making a fool of myself,” he said.

But Mr Tong has since stood by his convictions and wishes with all the science available and with all of what the world is, why do other countries still not take the action needed to avoid the projected “cataclysmic end to humanity”.

“Australia can and must be bolder on climate action, through strengthening its emissions reduction targets and increasing its climate finance contributions,” he said.

“Pacific peoples and Australians alike, as part of a Pacific family, depend on it.”

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