Tensions ran high at this week’s Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu, with a climate crisis declaration in the Pacific region being a cause for contention amongst regional leaders. Island-dominated nations in the area sought a consensus on climate goals, with many of these nations already bearing the brunt of rising sea levels and resulting effects due to climate change.
Australia, who is the largest emitter in the Pacific region, however, refused to endorse some of the climate goals discussed, particularly the call to end coal mining. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who focused on boosting the nation’s economy, allegedly engaged in heated discussions with his counterpart from Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga, who is a passionate advocate for climate justice in the region. New Zealand was the sole supporter of Australia in voicing objections to the strong climate goals posed by the 18 other nations who attended the forum.
Morrison defended his support of the coal mining industry, maintaining that the industry supports job creation and energy needs in Australia. This comes on the back of the approval of a controversial coal mine, to be built in Queensland and run by by India’s Adani in June this year. Morrison is adamant that Australia will still reach its Paris Climate Agreement obligations to cut emissions by 26% on 2005 levels by 2030. Australia has also pledged $340 million towards Pacific island renewable energy projects.
The tensions created between Australia and Tuvalu will inevitably cause a set back to Australia’s recent attempts to strengthen its relationship in the Pacific. China has allegedly been working to strengthen its hold on the Pacific region, due to the area’s strategic location. Chinese leaders have supported calls for climate action, and the end of the coal industry. The Guardian reports that Australia, in fear of China gaining influence in the region, recently promised to create a fund for Pacific islands to improve infrastructure. Morrison has committed up to $1.45 billion in grants and loans to be used for telecommunications, energy and transport.
After 12 hours of negotiations, delegates at the Pacific Forum eventually produced a statement of shared goals, many of which reflect those agreed to within the Paris Agreement. The suggestion was also made of declaring a climate emergency in the Pacific region, with the exclusion of Australia. Although the statement does not ensure an immediate end to coal mining, which was the aim of many attending states, Vanuatu Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu told the BBC that the resulting statement was a “stronger statement on climate change than the forum has ever made.” The statement committed to maximum warming of 1.5 degrees, and transitioning away from fossil fuels. Despite Australia’s disappointing lack of acknowledgement of the climate crisis, it is promising to see progress on emissions reduction goals.