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Climate change focus as Morrison attends Pacific Islands Forum

MELISSA CLARKE | Australian Broadcasting Corporation | Extract

SYDNEY - Scott Morrison's pledge to "step up" relations with the Pacific will be put to the test this coming week, with the Prime Minister heading to Tuvalu for talks with Pacific leaders.

The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) leaders meeting begins Monday in the Tuvaluan capital Funafuti, a small atoll 4,000km north-east of Sydney, with Mr Morrison arriving on Wednesday.

Climate change will be the central issue of the week-long meeting, along with economic development, maritime security and marine pollution.

Pacific nations have been increasingly vocal in the lead-up to the meeting in their demands for Australia to take stronger action on climate change.

But the Morrison Government shows no sign of changing domestic policies despite the repeated pleas, which could strain relations with the Pacific.

Australia is among a number of countries currently not on track to meet their unconditional Paris carbon emissions reduction targets by 2030, a UN report has warned.

The Federal Opposition has accused Mr Morrison of putting relations with the region at risk by not budging on climate change.

"Scott Morrison's priority … must be to ramp up ambition on climate change," said Pat Conroy, Labor's spokesman on international development and the Pacific.

"Without taking effective action in Australia on climate change, our entire Pacific 'step up' is undermined."

Speaking on Friday, Mr Morrison pointed to Australia's emissions reduction commitments under the Paris Agreement and financial support for Pacific countries grappling with climate change.

"We have … hundreds of millions of dollars of investments in those projects and other mitigation works that are undertaken throughout the region," he said.

"They do demonstrate the commitment that we have to a cleaner blue in the Pacific."

Pacific analyst Dr Tess Newton Cain expects the PIF Leaders Meeting will come to an agreed statement on climate change, but warns Australia may need to make concessions.

"It would be very unusual for there to be a stalemate," she said.

"So, it really does come down to who is prepared to give ground and where. It is shaping up to being a testing time for Mr Morrison in Tuvalu."

Since his re-election in May, Mr Morrison has been cultivating stronger relations with Pacific leaders, making his first overseas trip to the Solomon Islands and welcoming the new Papua New Guinea Prime Minister to Australia.

It is part of the Pacific "step up" strategy that aims to reassert Australia's leadership role in the region, at a time when China's presence is growing.

Whilst Australia's renewed focus on the Pacific has been welcomed, it has also given Pacific countries leverage in their demands.

Australia has long been the biggest donor of aid and development funds in the region, but China is making in-roads through both loans to governments and investment in the private sector.

Dr Newton Cain said Australia's financial support is not enough on its own to secure enduring partnerships with the Pacific.

"Mr Morrison doesn't want to create a situation where they're having to have conversations about [financial support]."

"A number of Pacific island countries, not all of them, have access to other partners, including China, which can provide them with as much finance as they may need."


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Lindsay F Bond

Hi Paul - One topic will not evaporate amid global warming, that of twinning adequate motors sources of energy adequate to propel vehicles (the topic already has momentum).

I cannot speak to the rationale of the announcement today from New Zealand about government supporting the purchase of electric powered vehicles, I am intensely interested as I'm sure wll be a family in NZ to which I am related.


Paul Oates

Ah Phil, sometimes it’s hard for some to know whether you are waving that wooden spoon around or when you’re serious.

The issues involved in the debates about climate change are real and unfortunately, have become politicised. In our democratic way, the adversarial approach to debating important issues tend to muddy the water and confuse those who don’t think or can’t be bothered to think for themselves.

Setting aside the emotive arguments about climate change, lets look at the reality of our recent history in producing, what everyone has become accustomed to and therefore demands, cheap energy. Our way of life in the developed world depends on electrical energy being instantly available. As consumers, we are constantly being encouraged to buy the latest and the biggest gizmo that depends on the use of energy. Electric vehicles are just the latest fad.

Electric vehicles still depend on being recharged and when the sun ain’t up, we still need to have recharged our modern electric car to get to work the next day. That requires expensive batteries to save yesterday’s sunlight that has to be captured by the expensive solar panels that ultimately become a landfill problem.

The reality is in how the problems are presented to the general public who really couldn’t give a damn as long as the support for their essential modern equipment is available and doesn’t cost too much.

Therein lies the real issue. Enter the real dilemma of political point scoring.

As an example, in the 1970’s, it was touted that Australia, who is lucky enough to have vast amounts of uranium, could start building nuclear power plants.

Bingo! One side of the political divide immediately used the emotive arguments of bombs and radiation to hose that idea down at the cost today of our dependence on coal. Where are those who triumphed in this tragedy now? Vainly starting to suggest nuclear power generation might be an alternative to coal. Yes, but 50 years too late. Why? Because when the emotional monster rears its multifaceted head of collective fear, rational thought flies out the window.

Politics is the issue here with this debate over energy generation. If we take the emotive politics out of the debate, the issues become so much clearer.

The Pacific Islands Forum see their opportunity to lean on Australia and New Zealand, as being seemingly ingenuous in their offer to help those in the Pacific who need help. They find it easy to play the contenders for help off against each other rather than look closer to home for possible solutions that might provide long term answers rather than short term funding that for some reason, often doesn’t seem to reach the intended recipients.

In order to find effective solutions, one must first, clearly define the problem.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings but if the people of the Pacific believe that the Australian government will do anything meaningful about climate change they are sadly mistaken.

Australia currently has a conservative government with an undeclared core of climate change deniers in its ranks.

If that isn’t discouraging enough it is also led by a prime minister who is a committed Pentecostal Christian who believes in miracles and God’s will.

One of those miracles enacted by God was letting him win the last unwinnable federal election. He is now prime minister because God put him there.

Roughly translated this means that he believes that climate change has been imposed on the world by God for unexplained reasons that should not be questioned.

For Morrison and many of his cohorts empirical science is something they view with scepticism.

If you don’t think this is true you should go out and count the number of Pentecostal Christians protesting about inaction on climate change. At last count their activism was zero.

You might also note that Pentecostals are strong supporters of the US president, Donald Trump. Trump’s view of climate change is exactly the same as Morrison’s predecessor once removed, Tony Abbott. That view is that climate change is crap.

Morrison is so convinced that fossil fuels are a gift from God that he took a piece of coal into parliament to show it off.

Rather than pressing issues like climate change Scott Morrison’s attention is a lot more focussed on something he calls religious freedom. He currently has minions in the dungeons of his government beavering away on legislation to that end.

We shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. The writing on the wall has been there ever since Tony Abbott charged into government yelling slogans about carbon tax.

Abbott is also a committed Christian. The Christian view is that the world is divided into those who believe in God and those who don’t. It is a classical “them and us” view.

This is why it was so easy for Morrison to shrug off the inherent cruelty that he inflicted and continues to inflict on asylum seekers. Asylum seekers are “them”, not “us” and treating them badly is fine.

Dividing humanity in this way is one that is easily accepted by right wing governments. Donald Trump is busily demonising Latin American migrants in much the same way that Abbott and Morrison demonised boat people trying to come to Australia.

Believing that God is the ultimate arbiter of what happens on Earth is an incredibly dangerous delusion because it suggests that we are powerless to intervene in things like climate change.

The people of the Pacific are staunch Christians so why should they be worried about climate change?

Perhaps it is the rising sea levels lapping at their feet.

Philip Fitzpatrick

When you take loans from the Chinese I think that negates your ability to make demands of them Craige.

Craige Brown

What demands are the Pacific Islands Forum making of its Chinese loan masters in relation to climate change?

William Dunlop

Yes, Paul - The ever evasive Aroundtoit factor.

M'by when we get Aroundtoit. Addressing reality.

Paul Oates

One part of the answer would be better co-operation between those residents of our own region. Anyone trying to be ‘Big Brother’ will only enhance feelings of subdued resentment. A better approach would be to have the Pacific Forum actually consider climate change as part of the whole Pacific picture. ‘Together we stand, divided we fall’ seems to have morphed into ‘divide and conquer’.

While ever ‘Climate Change’ is hived off from the other important factors affecting the lives of Pacific peoples it will always provide leverage against Australia, due to our reserves of energy and our export revenues that contrast with those who don’t have these resources. Looking at the region in a more lateral way, if Australia wasn’t able to export our raw materials, we wouldn’t have the resources to help those in the Pacific.

Some Climate Change will occur whether we like it or not. If Australia, who only produces a small carbon signature on a world scale, stopped using coal and exporting coal, those nations who still use oil, gas and coal wouldn’t stop using their own or another’s resources. Would PNG stop producing and selling their oil and gas in the future and stand together in solidarity with Australia against Climate Change?

Some significant problems that are continually being swept under a tapa rug are the dramatic population increase in some nations and the subsequent impact on available fresh water and food resources. What about the fish stocks that small nations now depend on? Could these be better protected from outsiders who are guilty of plundering these vital resources without any recompense? Could valuable timber forests be better protected from foreign loggers if a possible Pacific Regional Government was to have more clout? Would the health of Pacific peoples be better organised on a regional basis rather than the current slap dash approach? What about developing regional preparedness for future natural disasters like tsunamis and cyclones?

What about collective, regional responsibility and leadership? What about aspects like accountability for actions that affect our region as a whole? What about a Pacific Regional Corruption watchdog that has teeth and resources?

Has anyone actually thought laterally about raising these concerns in addition to the present media frenzy over climate change?

Hello….. Is there anyone out there listening and actually thinking outside the square?

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