Australia appears to be walking away from long-term Paris climate targets after insisting that key measures be removed from a declaration on climate change at a meeting of Pacific Island leaders on the island of Tuvalu.
Climate Home News reported late on Tuesday that Australia is attempting to water down the declaration by removing or “suppressing” references to the climate “crisis”, to the 1.5°C aspirational target from Paris, to carbon neutrality, and a ban on new coal plants and phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies.
The Pacific Island Forum is shaping up as a significant test for Australia, as it seeks to boost its influence over the Pacific nations in the face of growing Chinese influence, and as it seeks to try to convince a highly doubtful Pacific that it takes climate change seriously.
Australia set the tone for the event by sending junior minister Alex Hawke – who has the portfolio for international development and the Pacific, but who is one of the many climate skeptics in the Coalition’s ranks – to do the preparatory work ahead of the forum.
Hawke has a history of quoting climate science deniers, as he did in attacking Tim Flannery in this speech, talking of “climate alarmism” in one, describing the Clean Energy Finance Corp as “Orwellian” and declaring in another speech: “To say climate change is human induced is to overblow and overstate our role in the scheme of the universe.”
In that speech, Hawke went on to describe pro-climate action politicians as “amateur scientists, wannabe weather readers… people who like to come in here and make the most grandiose predictions about all sorts of scientific matters without even a basic understanding of the periodic table.”
That would hardly have been comforting for the Pacific Island nations facing significant threats from rising waters and disease, and Hawke’s handiwork was revealed in a leaked document that revealed the Coalition’s true colours on climate change.
It also reveals just how far away the Coalition is from having a serious policy on climate change, even when it comes to negotiating with small island nations most at risk.
All the measures rejected in the draft communique are key components of the long-term purpose of the Paris climate treaty, which aims to cap average global warming to well below 2°C, with an aspirational target of 1.5°C.
These are targets which require a carbon neutrality, or net zero emissions, to be reached by 2050 – as the UN has reiterated – along with the phase out of coal plants, and the removal of fossil fuel subsidies.
Climate change is high on the agenda of the forum, with many leaders calling on Australia’s pro-coal government to phase down its use of the fossil fuels. Fiji’s prime minister Frank Bainimarama, who presided over the 2017 UN climate talks, directly appealed to Australia to transition away from coal “to energy sources that do not contribute to climate change”.
However, the Coalition government has refused, instead trying to buy support in the region by repackaging already committed aid money and bundling them up to provide $500 million of funding over five years for “climate change” issues. That is a proposal that has not gone down well.
Tuvalu’s prime minister Enele Sopoaga told reporters: “No matter how much money you put on the table, it doesn’t give you the excuse to not to do the right thing that is cutting down your emissions, including not opening your coal mines.”
Sopoaga said the Pacific Island Forum declaration “must push forward and seek urgent actions, concrete actions by the global community” and expressed the hope “our Australian colleagues and others will take heed of this imperative”.
Climate Home News says that in comments on a draft communique dated August 7, Australia sought to wriggle out of its climate commitments and weaken language on limiting global temperatures to 1.5°C of warming – the target that small island states say is essential to their survival.
Among suggested edits, Australia deleted references to the 1.5°C goal being an “irrefutable red-line” for forum members, and pushed back against efforts to bring national policies in line with the latest science on 1.5°C from the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) report.
Australia agreed to “recognise” but not “endorse” the recent IPCC report that concluded global emissions must fall 45 per cent by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050 for a reasonable chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C. Australia’s version excises any mention of achieving net zero emissions by 2050, Climate Home News said.
The 45 per cent target is in line with the recommendation by the Climate Change Authority and most other analysts, which the Coalition government has ignored. Australia used to have a zero emissions target for 2050 but this was scrapped along with the carbon price in 2014.
UN secretary general António Guterres has also thrown his weight behind the call for zero emissions by 2050, and will demand every country start planning for such a target ahead of his climate action summit on September 23 in New York.
Australia is indicating it has no intention of meeting that request. According to Climate Home News, Australia wants to water down the reference to a zero emissions target to a general reference to “long term [greenhouse gas] emissions development strategies by 2020” .
Australia also asked that a paragraph that calls for “an immediate global ban on the construction of new coal plants and coal mines” and the “urgent phase out of all fossil fuel subsidies” be deleted, suggesting that the issue is “not a shared forum priority.”
The draft statement also asked countries to take action “with no caveats”, which Climate Homes News suggested was a likely dig at Australia for planning to use Kyoto-era carbon credits to meet its Paris Agreement pledges. Again, Australia pushed to cut the “no caveats” clause.