Climate experts weigh in on why Australia is losing footing in the Pacific

27.04.22 By
This content is more than 2 years old

THE MORRISON GOVERNMENT’S failure to take stronger action in the face of escalating security risks from climate change is taking a significant toll on Australia’s standing and influence in the Pacific, experts say.

Climate and foreign policy experts have long warned that for Australia to remain the partner of choice amidst growing regional competition, it must start taking seriously the region’s number one security concern: climate change.

Climate Council Researcher in international relations, Dr Wesley Morgan, who spent a decade living and working in the Pacific, said:

“Action on climate change must be at the very heart of Australia’s foreign policy, and in particular our relationship with the Pacific. In 2020, high commissioner of the Solomon Islands, Robert Sisilo, said: ‘climate change, not COVID-19, not even China, is the biggest threat to our security.’

“Australia has ignored years of urgent appeals from Pacific Island countries to show greater leadership on the climate crisis. It is a truly existential challenge for many communities in our region. I have seen up close how Australia’s recklessness on climate change has eroded trust and friendships

“Australia’s abject failure to tackle climate change – which is seen as the region’s greatest security threat – has undermined the Pacific Step Up. Pacific Island states have choices and if we’re going to be their security partner of choice, we need to be acting on their key security threat.

“The Solomon Islands, along with all Pacific Island countries, has made many attempts to encourage Australia to adopt stronger emissions reduction targets and to hasten its transition beyond fossil fuels. If the Morrison Government really wants to improve its relationships with the Pacific, it will need to demonstrate that it is taking the region’s number one security concern seriously. 

“Pacific Island Countries are not the only region butting heads with Australia over its lack of action on climate change. Some of Australia’s closest allies, like the US and UK, have singled out Australia to step up. Even the United Nations’ secretary-general António Guterres called Australia a “holdout” after Scott Morrison refused to strengthen the nation’s 2030 emissions reduction target.

“If Australia does not cut emissions deeply and rapidly this decade, and continues to increase its production of fossil fuels, we will further undermine relations with Pacific island countries. Australian climate policy cannot be separated from Australian strategy in the region.”

Major General Peter Dunn, co-founder of Emergency Leaders for Climate Action and former Commissioner for the ACT Emergency Services Authority, said:

“The intensifying situation with the Solomon Islands’ security pact with China is yet another concerning sign of Australia losing its influence in the Pacific.

“Unless it demonstrates clear transition plans to ensure that we reach net-zero emissions, Australia should expect to see its Pacific Island neighbours continue to turn their backs. 

“The Provincial Premier in the Solomon Islands, Watson Qoloni, has consistently called upon the urgent need for funds to finance relocations in Taro, the first confirmed Pacific community that must move due to the swelling tides and storm surges. He said: ‘It doesn’t matter where the money comes from. Whether it comes from God or Satan, we will take it.’

“Pacific nations are losing their homes and livelihoods to carbon emissions from developed countries. Australia must change its position fast to drive down emissions deeply and rapidly, or it faces very real threats to its security. 

For interviews please contact Jane Gardner on 0438 130 905.

The Climate Council is Australia’s leading community-funded climate change communications organisation. We provide authoritative, expert and evidence-based advice on climate change to journalists, policymakers, and the wider Australian community.

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