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Former Pacific leaders rebuke Australia for straying from regional climate goal

Updated: Dec 15, 2021

By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Former leaders of Pacific island nations and territories felt betrayed by Australia’s deviation from the region’s campaign to limit global heating to 1.5C, the threshold recommended by scientists to avert the catastrophic impact of climate anomaly.

“We are particularly concerned with the stance of Australia in the recent climate change discussions, especially its unwillingness to support major initiatives such as reducing methane emissions, phase-out of coal and elimination of subsidies on fossil fuel industries,” the Pacific Elders Voice said.

At the COP26 Glasgow climate summit last month, Australia was one of several nations that did not sign off on a call for all countries to return to the negotiating table next year with stronger commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

The world’s third-largest exporter of fossil fuel, Australia has declined to sign an international treaty aimed at keeping gas emissions in check.

In a letter to Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, chairman of the Pacific Islands Forum, the Pacific Elders said Australia’s position ignored the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's findings that Pacific islands are at risk of sinking.

“We are disappointed that there seems no new additional support by Australia for ‘loss &damage,' an issue very dear to the (Pacific island countries), or for adaptation which is the number one priority for vulnerable Pacific small island developing states,” the Pacific Elders said.

They also expressed displeasure over Australia’s lack of support to the Global Climate Fund that would finance climate adaptation programs, especially for the island nations.

“This is in spite of the usual claims of being part of the ‘Pacific family’ and of course an important member of the Forum,” the Pacific Elders said. “Australia is a signatory to all PIFS declarations, including the Kainaki Declaration on fossil fuels adopted at the Tuvalu summit.”


The Pacific Elders urged Bainimarama to press Australia into getting on board with the region’s collective goal.

“We are of the view that the PIFS need to write formally to Australia and make our position clear on our expectations of Australia, as part of PIF, to show greater commitment, empathy and support for this important development issue for all the small islands of the Pacific,” the Pacific Elders said.

The letter was signed by former Marshall Islands president Hilda Heine, former Palau president Tommy Remengesau Jr., former Kiribati prime minister Anote Tong, former Tuvalu prime minister Enele Sopoaga, former PIF secretary-general Dame Meg Taylor and former congressman Robert Underwood.

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