Pacific nations push Morrison government to pledge support for Paris climate accord

Photo: RNZ

CANBERRA, 30 AUGUST 2108 (SMH) – The Morrison government is under pressure from Pacific leaders to sign a pledge of support for the Paris climate accord, and declare climate change the “single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing” of the region.

The joint security declaration from the 18 members of the Pacific Islands Forum, obtained by Fairfax Media, will be considered this weekend as Prime Minister Scott Morrison faces political pressure from conservative MPs to water down or abandon emissions reduction commitments Australia made under the Paris agreement.

As his newly formed government attempts to move past the chaos of last week’s leadership crisis, Morrison will not attend the Nauru summit in place of Malcolm Turnbull, but will instead send new Foreign Minister Marise Payne.

The draft “Biketawa Plus” regional agreement covers a range of issues including crime, humanitarian assistance, and the environment, and has enjoyed the support of the Australian government during recent negotiations.

While the joint declaration has been touted as a way for Australia to strengthen Pacific ties and counter growing Chinese influence in the region, it is understood Pacific nations have pushed for recognition of the threat of climate change, given the particular vulnerability of low-lying island communities in the region.

The document Australia will be asked to sign includes the statement: “We reaffirm that climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific and our commitment to progress the implementation of the Paris agreement.”

As concerns grow about China’s strategic intentions in the region, the document also asserts that signatories “respect and assert the sovereign right of every member to conduct its national affairs free of external interference and coercion” and have the “right to individually and collectively address security issues and concerns”.

The language was considered and approved by officials and ministers of the 18 Pacific forum members at meetings in Samoa in early August. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, the former minister for international development and the Pacific, represented Australia.

The document recognises an “increasingly complex regional security environment” and backs the rules-based international order, which the United States and other Western allies have recently been forced to defend in the face of seismic shifts in strategic and economic power in the Asia-Pacific especially.

Jonathan Pryke, director of the Lowy Institute’s Pacific Islands program, said Pacific nations were crying out for Australia to show strong commitment to climate change action and there were concerns about Morrison’s record on the environment.

“This is the man who brought a lump of coal into Parliament,” Pryke said, referring to Morrison’s stunt during question time last year. “That imagery has made it out into the world.”

Pryke added: “There’s a lot of disagreement in the Pacific but they are unified on one thing above anything else and that’s climate change.”

Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy said the government needed a plan to reduce emissions so it can do its “fair share” as a wealthy and powerful country.

“Australian communities are being hit by climate damage right now through extreme fires and droughts. And Australia’s international standing is suffering, particularly among our Pacific friends who face growing threats to their security from sea-level rise, storm surges and fresh water availability,” O’Shanassy said.

Under the historic Paris agreement, Coalition government has committed to an emissions cut of 26 per cent but has struggled to devise a policy to achieve the reduction. The battles over this policy area have been a major factor fuelling the Liberal Party’s internal hostilities.

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