PM to face Ardern test over carbon
Jacinda Ardern has challenged Scott Morrison to explain his government’s position on climate change to Pacific leaders as Australia fends off attacks over its domestic emissions policies despite committing $800 million to address global warming in the region.
The Prime Minister will today defend his regional “step-up” in a closed-door retreat with counterparts at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu, reminding them that Australia helps educate their children, offers them jobs, and contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to delivering services to their people.
But his New Zealand counterpart, who has promised a carbonneutral economy by 2050, yesterday declared that every nation needed to “do its bit” to fight worsening global warming, despite providing $300m less than Australia in direct climate assistance for the Pacific over the next six years.
To achieve her carbon-neutral pledge, Ms Ardern has excluded agriculture and methane, which contribute about half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Also, New Zealand has committed to cutting its carbon emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, just two percentage points more than Australia’s target.
The country did not sign up for binding 2020 targets under the Kyoto 2 process after nearly missing its target for the first round, and contributed only $3m to firstround funding of the UN’s Green Climate Fund compared with Australia’s $200m.
After flying in to Tuvalu, Ms Ardern talked up her government’s support for limiting warming to 1.5C compared with preindustrial levels — 0.5C less than that advocated by Australia. Small island states also want the New Zealand target included as a goal in the forum leaders’ declaration. “We will continue to say that New Zealand will do its bit,” Ms Ardern said. “And we have an expectation that everyone else will as well. We have to. Every single little bit matters.
“So that is why New Zealand has joined that international call. That is why we speak, I believe, strongly on the international stage around these issues. But ultimately we all have to take responsibility for ourselves … Australia has to answer to the Pacific. That is a matter for them.”
Mr Morrison arrived in Tuvalu yesterday after days of lobbying by Australia’s negotiating team to remove the “red line” issue of a transition from coal from the forum’s final communique. He said the “family gathering” would
consider the future of the environment, but it would also “be talking about the future of our economies”.
“We’re going to talk about what is talked about at every assembly of every single family of the world: how are our kids going to get jobs?” Mr Morrison said. “And what jobs are they going to have in the future? And how we make sure that that happens?
“And that’s particularly a big challenge here in the Pacific, with such a large youth population, and a growing population. We want to make sure they have the skills for the jobs they are going to need.”
Mr Morrison also emphasised Australia’s support through the $1.4 billion-a-year Pacific aid program to help regional neighbours deal with health challenges, such as fighting drug-resistant tuberculosis, and delivering medical services in remote areas.
The Prime Minister last night had bilateral meetings with Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoanga, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape and Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna.
Sources said none of the leaders pushed Mr Morrison on climate change, despite strong statements by many at the forum on the need to accelerate emissions reductions to protect low-lying Pacific nations from rising seas and worsening storms. Several leaders, including Ms Ardern, emphasised the need for a consensus communique, which could help Australia in its fight to tone down the language of earlier drafts.
Mr Morrison, who is pushing hard to cement regional relationships amid growing strategic competition with China, yesterday announced an extra 150 technical and vocational scholarships for 2019-20 through the Australia Pacific Training College.
The college, which has trained 13,000 islanders from 14 countries since 2007, provides recognised qualifications allowing graduates to seek work in Australia under the Pacific Labour Scheme.
Ms Ardern, who like Mr Morrison is intensifying engagement with the region through her own “Pacific pivot”, has put climate change at the centre of her international agenda. At the UN General Assembly last year, she urged other countries to put self-interest aside to help save Pacific nations from being swamped.
“Nations like Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands, or Kiribati — small countries who’ve contributed the least to global climate change — are and will suffer the full force of a warming planet,” she said.
“If my Pacific neighbours do not have the option of opting out of the effects of climate change, why should we be able to opt out of taking action to stop it?”
Mr Morrison contrasted Australia’s performance on cutting emissions with that of New Zealand in a speech in February, arguing Australia was “in a very small club” that was exceeding its carbon emissions targets.
By the middle of next decade, Australia will have spent $800m in taxpayers’ money directly helping Pacific island nations — not including the $200m committed to the UN Green Climate Fund.
Malcolm Turnbull pledged $300m when prime minister for the period 2016 to 2020 and Mr Morrison this week announced $500 more for Pacific island nations’ climate action plans.
By contrast, New Zealand spent $200m in the region between 2015 and 2019 and is on track to spend a further $300m by 2023.
Minister for the Pacific Alex Hawke has been trying to convince counterparts to tone down the language of the draft Fanufuti Declaration, arguing against any mention of coal.
The Australian revealed yesterday that Mr Hawke held discussions with several Pacific Island countries on Monday, presenting them with a table showing Australia had just 20 of the world’s 2459 operating coalmines, while 126 were in China and 33 in India.
Of 359 coalmines in preconstruction, Australia had just two, he told island leaders.
Tuvaluan children greet Scott Morrison after his arrival in Funafuti yesterday for the Pacific Islands Forum