CANBERRA – Papua New Guineans have woken up to Australia’s climate change propaganda.
They not only resent its blatant dishonesty, they’re angry Australia is trying to play them for fools.
And they are tuning out from sugar-coated Australian government climate change propaganda that aims to mislead ahead of next week’s COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.
Papua New Guineans are backed by Prince Charles, Sir David Attenborough, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres and Joe Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry - among hundreds of eminent people who say COP26 is the world's 'last chance' to avoid runaway climate change.
And even though Australia’s federal government yesterday agreed to a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, much of the rest of the world understands that net zero by 2030 is what is required to avoid a climate disaster.
But for many of Australia’s conservative politicians, even net zero by 2050 is way over the top.
Australia is the world’s eighth worst carbon emitter per person (we’re tied with Canada) and the Morrison government is using its official PNG mouthpiece to share information about its activities to support adaptation and resilience to a changing climate in PNG and the Pacific.
However, PNG and other Pacific Island countries are well aware that Australia talks the talk without walking the walk.
So the Australian High Commission’s ‘look what we’re doing’ campaign has been frostily received since it began in mid-October.
On Facebook, each vignette has barely registered 20 positive engagements from more than 90,000 followers.
And on Twitter, where high commissioner Jon Philp has about 7,200 followers, a ‘look at us research’ tweet on Sunday received no response at all and a ‘look at us renewables’ tweet yesterday did no better.
An earlier tweet on Saturday about how Australia is paying for the PNG delegation’s trip to Glasgow did better (68 likes and 20 retweets), but only after Keith Jackson had drawn attention to it in a tweet of his own, that has reached nearly 8,000 people so far.
“The ill-equipped Australian delegation has nothing to offer & is set to embarrass us much. The Pacific islands need real action not fakery,” wrote Jackson, and followed up yesterday with a commentary on Australia’s “lamentable performance”.
The abysmal social media response to Mr Philp and the accompanying irritation amongst Papua New Guineans about what is seen as Australia’s hypocritical utterings on climate action are unsurprising.
The impacts of climate change have been a reality in PNG for more than a decade, and Australia has mostly spent that time digging up coal, sucking up gas and burying its head in the sand.
In 2003 – just six years after Australia refused to ratify the Kyoto emissions protocol – the PNG government authorised the evacuation of the Carteret Islands north-east of Bougainville because of sea inundation.
The subsequent relocation efforts earned the Carteret Islanders an unenviable moniker – “the world’s first climate change refugees”.
Although some people decided to remain on the atoll, the exodus of others exemplifies the grim future facing substantial populations on the many low-lying islands of the Pacific.
Australia showed a brief spurt of progress when it ratified the Kyoto protocol in 2007 under the leadership of prime minister Kevin Rudd, who went on to propose a visionary emissions trading scheme.
This scheme would have created a market for carbon with associated carrots and sticks to encourage for polluters to do the right thing and reduce their emissions.
But it was ultimately a non-starter as the conservative opposition successfully opposed it, enabled by Greens Party senators, who under the misapprehension they were tactical geniuses deliberately sank the legislation in a mind-boggling display of self-harm.
While Australia’s emissions have reduced over the last 10 years or so (State government action and citizens own significant adoption of solar being the key movers), the current rate of emissions reduction is too slow to align with efforts to prevent catastrophic global warming.
In 2018, Australia’s emissions were more than 15 metric tons per person, while PNG’s were less than 0.9 metric tons – 17 times less.
This kind of inequity, along with Australia’s willingness to spin, cheat and bluff, will be front of mind for Gary Juffa, Wera Mori, Powes Parkop and the rest of the PNG COP26 delegation when they run into Scott Morrison in Glasgow.
They will address the Australian prime minister with Melanesian respect and politeness but their message will be unmistakable.
Knowing that Australia is better at announcing than delivering, they will also be sceptical of its ability to deliver on the inadequate 2050 zero target, which it grudgingly adopted – but with no plan on how to achieve even this derisory goal - just days before the conference after years of inaction and denial.
Australia’s propaganda is hypocritical, it is disingenuous and it is cynical, but what is more galling to Papua New Guineans is that some geniuses in the Australian government think that Papua New Guineans will buy it.
They can sugarcoat the turd all they want, but, as we say in my birthplace, ’Une merde est toujours une merde’.
Or in a land whose people I admire a great deal, ‘Pekpek oltaim oltaim istap pekpek’.