| Guardian Australia | Extracts
SYDNEY - When Scott Morrison thanked governments of the world for their assistance with Australia’s bushfire crisis, he particularly singled out “the loving response from our Pacific family”.
Across the Pacific region – a collection of developing and least developed nations that are themselves almost uniquely at risk from climate-induced catastrophes – the response to the Australian bushfires has been immediate and generous, but it also reveals something of the problematic fraternity that Australia has with the rest of the region.
The heartfelt response of Pacific nations to Australia during this time is in part a reciprocation of the assistance Pacific countries receive from Australia when crises befall them.
As James Marape, the prime minister of PNG, noted in his statement about the fires: “Australia is the closest friend of PNG and is always the first in PNG in our times of adversities.”
But Australia’s generosity also puts Pacific countries in a tight spot.
Pacific leaders have to walk a difficult line: keeping Australia and its financial support on side, particularly as they face the prospect of increased climate-related natural disasters in their countries, while wanting to challenge Australia on its climate policies.
A Pacific climate change coordinator once told me that he saw Australia’s relationship with the rest of the region on the issue of the climate crisis as akin to an abusive marriage.
On the one hand, he said, Australia provided aid to the region to deal with the effects of global heating, but then at international climate summits, Australia actively undermined global attempts – often spearheaded by Pacific leaders – to halt the climate crisis.
“It’s like you’re in a relationship and you get abused by your spouse but at the same time they feed you and clothe you and things like that.”
Pacific leaders are among the most outspoken and effective climate leaders the world has. We know they are angry at Australia’s refusal to transition away from coal, as well as Australia’s use of carryover credits to meet Paris targets.
We know, in the words of the former prime minister of Tuvalu, , Enele Sopoaga, that they see Australia as trying to save its economy, while they are working to save their people.
We know that they know Australia is not doing enough to tackle the climate crisis – the same climate crisis that is seeing their islands suffer rising sea levels, increasingly frequent devastating cyclones, salinity of the water table, erosion of their islands; that same climate crisis that threatens to make Australia’s current devastating fire season the norm for our future.
And yet, still, they are there to offer us help.
When asked whether he thought it was odd for people in a much poorer country like Papua New Guinea to be raising money for people in a wealthier one, Imbu, who organised a Lae fundraiser, said: “We live in an environment where the richest are getting richer and the poorest getting poorer, but as human beings we have this hardware, we try to help.”
Pacific nations deserve all the thanks Morrison has given them, but to survive, they need much more from him.