Australia tells Pacific Islands to “reflect” on climate action, dial down “crisis” talk

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More detail on Australia’s efforts with the red pen at the Pacific Islands Forum, deleting all but one mention of coal, and pushing for climate “reflection” rather than action.

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Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Pacific Skills Portal Launch during the Pacific Islands Forum in Funafuti, Tuvalu, Wednesday, August 14, 2019. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING
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More detail has emerged on the embarrassing lengths being taken by Australia’s Morrison government to dial down references to a climate crisis, and “soften language” around coal, at this week’s Pacific Islands Forum to draft a regional climate communique.

Australia’s contributions to the communique – which is supposed to guide like-minded policy-making in the region – got off to a shaky start, with reports it had demanded the removal of key Paris targets.

The Guardian reported on Thursday that a draft text of the communique, viewed by an unnamed source, would also call on members to “reflect on” the UN call for no new coal and an end to fossil fuel subsidies, rather than do anything so rash as endorse it.

Team Australia – which has been joined by captain ScoMo – has also reportedly been working hard to soften the language on climate change in the communique.

The Guardian said Tuvalu’s prime minister, Enele Sopoaga, had told the paper on Thursday that it looked like Pacific leaders would not be successful in getting the language of “climate change crisis” in the communique, but would instead have to settle for “climate change reality.”

Another source who had reportedly seen the draft told the Guardian it would call on members to “reflect on” the UN secretary general’s call for no new coal and an end to fossil fuel subsidies, rather than actually endorsing it.

This would be a far cry from what Pacific Island nation leaders actually want from their biggest neighbour, which is “an immediate global ban on the construction of new coal-fired power plants and coalmines” and the rapid “phase out … of coal in the power sector”.

As we reported on Wednesday, the Pacific Island Forum is shaping up as a significant test for Australia, as it seeks to flex its regional muscles in the face of growing Chinese influence, while at the same time trying to convince a highly doubtful Pacific that it takes climate change seriously.

It appears to be doing quite well on the first count, with sources saying the Australian delegation has succeeded in removing all but one reference to coal in the draft communique, and even that one looks set to go, when Pacific leaders including Scott Morrison meet later in the day to debate the text.

On the second count, pretending to take climate change seriously, the Australian delegation is not doing quite so well.

As Giles Parkinson noted on Wednesday, 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.

According to reports, Australia has also suggested deleting references to the 1.5°C goal being an “irrefutable red-line” for forum members.

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.

But hey, let’s look on the bright side. At least Peter Dutton’s not there, cracking jokes about sea-level rise.

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