Disappointment over 'weakened' Pacific Islands Forum outcome

Catholic agencies have expressed disappointment at Australia’s stance at the Pacific Islands Forum after it stymied efforts by small island states to get Pacific-wide consensus on their declaration for stronger action on climate change.

ABC News reports that regional leaders, including Australia and New Zealand, held 12-hour talks in the tiny Pacific nation of Tuvalu for this year's Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), eventually reaching an agreement on a statement on climate change and a communique early Friday morning.

 They could not reach agreement on the Tuvalu Declaration made by smaller Pacific countries, instead drafting a separate Kainaki II Declaration, with different terms on coal use and emissions reduction.

A beach at Funafuti atoll, Tuvalu, which is bearing the brunt of climate change. Photo: Stefan Lins - Flickr.com, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1514523

A beach at Funafuti atoll, Tuvalu, which is bearing the brunt of climate change. Photo: Stefan Lins - Flickr.com, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1514523

That means that the final communique endorses the Smaller Island States declaration "with qualifications", and no country has fully committed to endorsing the Tuvalu Declaration.

That disappointed the PIF chair, Tuvalu's Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga, who said as he left the meeting: "We tried our best".

Mr Sopoaga had invested significant time and energy in making climate change the central focus of the meeting, and pushed for the Tuvalu Declaration to be adopted by Australia, but was resigned to the alternative outcome.

Mr Morrison said he understood the sensitivities in the region and showed his respect during negotiations, but ultimately he was "accountable to the Australian people".

"I understand the deep sensitivities. It's not a theoretical issue, it's not a dinner party conversation here in the Pacific,” he told reporters.

"It's not just about Australia's economy. It's about how Australia can continue to provide the support that we do across the Pacific region."

Edmund Rice Centre Director Phil Glendenning said in a statement that the final communique is a significantly weakened version than had been hoped for by many.

“As per media reports in the past few days, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has successfully negotiated a much weaker final PIF Communique,” Mr Glendenning said.   

“Australia’s refusal to reconsider its position on coal-mining and its resistance to increasing its current Paris Agreement target is untenable if it wants to retain a respected profile in the Pacific.

“If your neighbour’s house is burning, do you turn up with a petrol hose and make the fire worse? Or do you arrive with a garden hose and make a token, inadequate effort to put the fire out while the house continues to burn?  This year, Australia has come to the PIF with both hoses.  On the one hand, it is actively undermining the survival of its Pacific neighbours by refusing to commit to a transition out of coal; on the other, it is throwing inadequate sums of money around, which will never solve the climate crisis - a crisis it has helped create and is continuing to inflame.”

Earlier this week, Australia promised $500 million for a climate aid package for the Pacific, but Caritas Australia’s Director of Advocacy, Nic Nelson, said it didn’t go far enough and more action was needed on the home front to curb emissions.

“We welcome efforts to respond to climate change in the Pacific, but a winning climate strategy includes stronger domestic action on emissions reduction,” he said.


ABC News: Pacific leaders, Australia agree to disagree about action on climate change.

Edmund Rice Centre: Australia favours self-interest and coal over Pacific Nations' survival.

Caritas Australia: Pacific climate action must be met with Australian emissions reductions, says Caritas Australia