Australia signs declaration on Pacific climate ‘threat’, islands call on US to return to Paris deal

A high tide across Ejit Island in Majuro Atoll, Marshall Islands. Picture: RNZ

YAREN, 06 SEPTEMBER 2018 (ABC) – Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Island nations have signed a declaration highlighting climate change as “the single greatest threat” to Pacific people, while island nations called on the United States to return to the Paris agreement.

The communique was signed at the end of the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru, attended by large and small island states as well as New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne.

The document also said “Leaders of Forum Island Countries” called on the United States to return to the Paris climate change agreement.

Washington formally announced it would withdraw from the landmark climate agreement in August last year.

The Boe Declaration, named after the district in Nauru it was signed in, expands the concept of security to include human security, environmental and resource security, as well as transnational crime and cybersecurity.

“Recognising that climate change presents the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and wellbeing of Pacific people, leaders reaffirmed the importance of immediate urgent action to combat climate change,” the Forum communique said.

The document also said leaders committed to work together in the lead up to this year’s COP24 climate conference in Poland, in order to “ensure effective progress on Pacific priorities with regards to the Paris Agreement.”

The declaration also recognised the Pacific’s “dynamic geopolitical environment”, which was leading to “an increasingly crowded and complex region.”

China’s increasing presence in the region has been in the spotlight in recent months, especially its loans for large-scale infrastructure projects in island nations.

Australia has been seeking to reassert itself as the “partner of choice” for Pacific countries.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne announced that Australia would also work to establish a new centre focused on “strengthening the ability of Pacific governments to enforce their laws and protect their sovereignty.”

Senator Payne said the new Pacific Fusion Centre, to be established in mid-2019, will provide Pacific decision makers with information needed to better identify and respond to security threats, such as illegal fishing, people smuggling and narcotics trafficking.

In addition to the new centre, Senator Payne said Australia would help provide strategic policy development in the region with a new Australia Pacific Security College, to be established in early 2019.

Tensions over China and refugees have been running high at the forum after Nauru on Tuesday accused a Chinese official of bullying and temporarily detained a New Zealand journalist.

But Nauru President Baron Waqa hit back at critics, claiming that refugees are not an issue for Pacific nations.

“We don’t deserve this, at all,” Waqa said.

“How can it be an issue for Tonga, for Kiribati … it’s an issue for Australia and all those refugee advocates who are out there. It’s a political issue,” he said.

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