Tuvalu's Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP
Tuvalu's Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP

‘It’s just immoral’: Pacific PM slams Australia

The prime minister of a tiny Pacific Island nation has described it as "immoral" to believe that a $500 million funding package from Australia would make him shut up about climate change.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will meet with Pacific Islands Forum leaders today in Tuvalu and is expected to unveil a $500 million climate change and oceans funding package.

But the funding does not appear to have dampened demands from Pacific Island nations, which want Australia to address climate change, end coal mining and not open any new mines.

Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga told ABC's Radio National this morning that the "situation is dire" for his country, where rising sea levels could see the nation disappear. They have also been impacted by droughts and large swells unexpectedly, even when there are no tropical cyclones. The country's livelihoods and revenue have been impacted by a decline in tuna stocks.

Mr Sopoaga wants countries to stand by their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change.

He said it was "really terrifying" to see that the world was already headed towards a 3C temperature increase by the end of the century.

"That would spell the complete demise and submersion of Tuvalu," he said. "This is ridiculous and I don't think it is acceptable."

While he accepted Australia's $500 million package was a good gesture, Mr Sopoaga said it did not give anyone the right to not do things, such as cut back emissions back in their home countries, or not to stop coal mining.

"It's just immoral," Mr Sopoaga said. "Giving money in a sense to people to shut up - not to talk about their rights to survive.

"It is the right of the people of Tuvalu and small islands to survive. Whether it's $500 million or $1 billion or whatever, it doesn't make any difference."

 

Tuvalu's Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP
Tuvalu's Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP

He said countries still had an obligation to reduce greenhouse gases.

"I think it's almost like … buying off the support," he said. "I'm not going to say to do that, in the sake of saving my people."

Australia is trying to remove mention of phasing out of coal in the communique at the Pacific Islands Forum and Minister for the Pacific Alex Hawke told ABC it was a "red line issue" for Australia.

"Australia's position on coal is we won't have a communique where coal and coal- fired generation, or phasing it out now, is a realistic proposition," he said.

"We wouldn't want to see talks break down, but every country has their position, every country has the things that they need to stick with. Australia has a position that we need to stick with."

The final communique will be drawn from the Nadi Bay Declaration, which was agreed to by the smaller island nations ahead of the leaders' meeting.

It makes specific calls to rule out new coal mines and to phase out the resource, with Fiji's leader Frank Bainimarama telling the islands to not let Australia water down such language.

Mr Hawke on Tuesday defended the controversial Adani coalmine in Queensland, saying that Australia only had two new coal mines on the way, compared to hundreds across the globe.

Mr Morrison's arrival is hotly anticipated, as he will be faced with local children sitting in a shallow pool of water to show how their home is on the forefront of climate change.

The children, singing "save Tuvalu, save the world", have greeted all leaders, but criticism of Australia's climate policies makes it a dig towards the larger neighbour.

From left to right: Pacific Island Forum Secretary General Dame Meg Taylor, Tuvalu's Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga and Nauru's President Baron Waqa. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP
From left to right: Pacific Island Forum Secretary General Dame Meg Taylor, Tuvalu's Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga and Nauru's President Baron Waqa. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP

 

Australia's approach to reducing emissions and reliance on coal has been under the spotlight at the leaders' forum, with the smaller islands reiterating the existential threat they face from climate change.

They want Australia to abandon its decision to use carryover credits towards the Paris agreement emissions reduction goal, but the federal government has stood firm against such calls.

New analysis by left-leaning The Australia Institute has found that by using carryover credits, the federal government will save itself from reducing emissions by the equivalent of seven years of fossil fuels to that of its Pacific neighbours.

Meanwhile, Labor's spokesman for the Pacific Pat Conroy also has criticised the government for rebadging existing aid money, saying it will mean other countries receive less help.

Mr Morrison is expected to have bilateral discussions with Vanuatu's leader Charlot Salwai, New Zealand's prime minister Jacinda Ardern, Cook Islands head Henry Puna and Tuvalu's Enele Sopoaga.

He is likely to use the meetings to raise concerns over China's increasing presence in the region, while he has also announced $1.5 million for another 150 technical and vocational scholarships to help Pacific islanders looking for work.


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