As expected, climate change has taken center stage as the annual summit of the Pacific Islands Forum gets underway in Tuvalu. Ahead of the meeting, Australia pledged 340 million dollars to fund climate resistance projects but flatly rejected calls to phase out coal, reform its climate policies and resume payments to the UN’s Green Climate Fund.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison can expect a difficult visit. The summit’s host, Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga of Tuvalu, has already stated that the new Australian adaptation fund falls short.
“No matter how much money you put on the table,” he said, “it doesn’t give you the excuse not to do the right thing, which is to cut down your emissions, including not opening your coal mines.”
There are reports of tough negotiations on a final communique, with Australia said to be trying to water down the section on climate change.
Prime Minister Morrison announced a Pacific “step up” after he took office last year, made his first overseas visit after his recent election to the Solomon Islands, and hosted the new Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea.
Australia has long been the largest donor of aid in the Pacific and its new policy is widely seen as an effort to counter the rising influence of China. But Morrison is unlikely to shift the focus of the summit to geostrategic issues when Tuvalu itself shows the existential threat of climate change.
Arable land and fresh water are steadily being lost to salinization from rising sea levels, warmer ocean water has depleted stocks of fish. On a recent visit, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, “Nowhere have I seen the heartbreaking impacts of climate change more starkly than Tuvalu.”