Australia’s ‘dirty’ coal hypocrisy threatens Pacific climate security

A message from PICAN activists at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji ... keep fossil fuels in the ground. Image: PICAN

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

As Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull prepares to meet with his island counterparts this week in Apia, Samoa, Pacific civil society groups say his country’s promotion of coal puts their communities at risk.

Pacific island countries, including some of the world’s most vulnerable low-lying islands, are demanding greater ambition to tackle climate change and renewed political commitment to the 2015 Paris Agreement.

On Thursday, Pacific Islands Forum leaders will consider a “united” Pacific voice to take to the COP23 climate negotiations in November. At those talks – to be held in Bonn, Germany – the world’s eyes will be on the Pacific as Fiji takes over as president of the UN climate negotiations, the first time a small island developing state has held this important role.

However, members of the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network (PICAN) say there is a low probability of an authentic “united” Pacific voice being forged in Apia, with Australia’s presence and economic interests being historically responsible for watering-down regional climate declarations.

Australia’s continued promotion of coal – the dirtiest of the fossil fuels that are driving the world’s warming climate – jeopardises negotiation outcomes, and ultimately the safety of the entire Pacific region.

Maina Talia, from the Tuvalu Climate Action Network (TuCAN), said Pacific island leaders had again and again explained that climate change was the greatest security risk to island countries and communities.

“We are strong and resilient people”, said Talia. “However we can only adapt to so many changes.

Greater responsibility needed
“Stronger cyclones, coral bleaching, and rising sea levels are all causing permanent and irreparable damage in our countries. We need polluters to take greater responsibility for their actions now.”

He said countries that were committed to fossil fuel economies needed to shift to renewables as fast as possible.

Talia added that “governments and civil society organisations must work together, to build resilience to address the adverse impacts of climate change by developing a Pacific Islands Climate Change Insurance Facility that ensures our sovereign rights are well protected.”

Talia also said polluting nations needed to ensure Pacific island communities and countries that are facing permanent loss and damage from the impacts of climate change could access grant-finance simply and easily.

Australia, the largest and wealthiest member of the Pacific Islands Forum, is also the world’s largest coal exporter, and is currently planning to subsidise the development of new export coal mines and coal-fired power plants.

In October, construction is expected to get underway for what will be the world’s largest export coal mine, in the state of Queensland.

Strong language
PICAN and other members of the Pacific civil society will be looking to the outcome statements of the Apia meeting for strong language around 1.5 degrees, the UNFCCC Gender Action Plan (GAP), loss and damage finance, and other previously agreed ambitious Pacific positions in the global climate negotiations.

Last month PICAN awarded the Australian government the inaugural “Pacific Fossil Award”, for its repeated efforts to convince Pacific island countries of its dedication to tackling climate change, while actually making the problem worse by expanding coal exports, as well as promoting the use of coal abroad.

Established by the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network (PICAN), the new award is intended to call out countries that are not doing their fair share to move away from fossil fuels and to tackle climate change.

Pacific Islands Climate Action Network (PICAN) is a regional alliance of 55 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), civil society organisations (CSOs), social movements and not-for-profit organisations from the Pacific Islands region working on various aspects of climate change, disaster risk and response and sustainable development. PICAN is also the Pacific regional node of the Climate Action Network International.

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