Australia would need “slightly more ambitious reductions than the ones they’ve proposed” to support climate action in the Pacific region
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong landed in Fiji on Thursday bearing promises to build “quality, climate-resilient infrastructure” and reassert Australia’s role as a leader on climate change.
“As our election last weekend showed, Australians understand the imperative of acting on climate change,” she said. “The climate crisis loomed as one of the key concerns to the Australian people.
“There is a huge groundswell of support for taking real action on the climate crisis in Australia … and the new government is firmly committed to making it happen.”
Wong’s speech, which kicked off the new government’s full-court press to counter China’s influence across the region, would be widely welcomed, Pacific affairs analysts said.
But they warned there was a widespread expectation that Australia would need to do more than what Labor promised at the election.
Mark Howden, director of the Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions at the Australian National University, said the real test would be around emissions reduction.
While it would help, Labor’s promise to cut Australia’s emissions by 43 per cent this decade, compared with 2005 levels, was “not entirely consistent” with keeping global temperate gains below 1.5 degrees.
“So we need slightly more ambitious reductions than the ones they’ve proposed,” he said.
“They would like to see Australia get serious about emissions reductions. They see that there’s a need to really do our part in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and hence avoiding, specifically, sea-level rises, which terrifies them.”
The 2015 Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree target was largely driven by the Pacific island nations, “so they’ve got a very clear ownership of that target and when our emissions reductions aren’t consistent with that they feel aggrieved”, Professor Howden said.
“The emissions reductions that the Morrison government had were much more consistent with a 3-degree temperature rise,” he said.
Part of what Pacific islands want from Canberra is a change in rhetoric and approach to global climate talks, said Mihai Sora, research fellow at the Lowy Institute’s Pacific Islands programme.
“They want more ambitious emissions commitments from Australia, at least in line with what the US position is,” said Mr Sora, a former Australian diplomat with postings to Solomon Islands and Indonesia.
“But there’s also a sense that Australia has played an obstructive role in climate change negotiations and discussions. For example, when Australia goes to the Pacific Island Conferences, and they discuss climate change, Australia takes a role in trying to water down or pull back on statements.
“So there’s an inchoate perception that Australia holds back on climate change. And they want more Australian support for climate change mitigation and adaption.”
Senator Wong, in her speech in Suva on Thursday, noted Labor took to the election plans to create an Australia-Pacific Climate Infrastructure Partnership “to support climate-related infrastructure and energy projects in Pacific countries and Timor-Leste”.
John Connor, chief executive of the Carbon Markets Institute and a former adviser to the Fijian government on climate policy, said the region would be looking to Australia to be a “powerful force for good in international negotiations”.
“Particularly now, as we come into COP27 in Egypt, it comes down to money. COP27 will be looking at climate finance very closely,” he said.
“Investment and adaption is important – they are relocating communities. Climate change is here and now” for the region.
“This is all being thrashed out in the UN processes, and the biggest and curliest one of all is this issue of loss and damage, which many developing countries say they need to be paid for the things they’re losing, like fishing grounds,” Connor said.
“How do you make good for that because of your carbon-based prosperity?”
This story was written by Jacob Greber, originally published at The Australian Financial Review on 26 May 2022, reposted via PACNEWS.