Australia has been accused of “greenwashing” its international climate finance commitments, claiming credit for aid projects only tangentially related to climate change, and using international funding to “bully” Pacific region neighbours into silence on climate change.
A new report published by Greenpeace labelled Australia a “diplomatic bully” in the Pacific region, using its diplomatic and economic clout to water down climate change commitments within the Pacific and forcing regional neighbours into silence.
Significant pressure has been placed on wealthier countries during COP26 to increase the commitments for international aid, to support developing countries adapt to the impacts of climate change, and to grow their own economies in a sustainable way.
Countries have committed to providing a combined $100 billion in finance each year to support the sustainable development and adaption of developing countries in response to climate change, but this target has yet to be reached.
This week, Australia announced that it would increase its international finance commitments to $2 billion, a $500 million increase. But the Greenpeace investigation suggests that much of the financial support previously provided by Australia has had minimal links to climate change.
“The projects with the highest levels of funding had at best a tangential link to climate change and at worst no clear link. Indeed, many of the long descriptions of the projects contained no reference to the climate or environment,” Greenpeace’s report says.
The report also found examples of Australia using the provision of financial support as a means to quell dissent from Pacific region neighbours, who would otherwise criticise Australia’s lack of action on climate change, but doing so could see financial support withdrawn.
“Australia has a history of using bilateral aid as a way of gaining leverage over Pacific island countries. It would be nice to see Australia being a good international citizen and showing support for multilateral climate finance such as the UN’s Green Climate Fund. It refuses to do so,” Greenpeace Australia Pacific researcher Alex Edney-Browne said.
Greenpeace said that the group’s investigation had demonstrated how large an impact Australia was having in its attempts to obstruct stronger climate action and to silence the views of regional neighbours.
“Australia has lost its once-respected position in the Pacific and now has a reputation for bullying and strong-arm diplomatic tactics to thwart regional climate action,” Edney-Browne added.
“Pacific Island leaders are some of the world’s strongest climate advocates, but Australia has brazenly tried to buy their silence through aid with strings attached.”
“Morrison’s last-minute commitment at COP26 this week to increase regional climate finance by $500 million, via bilateral agreements, simply won’t cut it. Given the level of greenwashing going on in Australia’s foreign aid to the Pacific as revealed in this report, there is also no guarantee that this money will go where it’s needed to increase the climate resiliency of Pacific peoples.”
To prepare the report, Greenpeace conducted interviews with a range of current and former diplomats from Australia and Pacific region countries, including former foreign affairs minister Gareth Evans and former president of Kiribati, Anote Tong.
Tong said that countries within the Pacific region looked to Australia, as the regional power, to show leadership on issues like climate change, but questioned whether
“I cannot read into the minds of Australian leaders, but it’s always been my hope that we would treat each other with mutual respect, but I’m not sure this has always been the case,” Tong said.
“But we should be partners in every respect and not when it is convenient to one party but not the other, for example, on climate change. We expect Australia to be stepping forward because climate change is very important for us and we’re meant to be part of this family. It had always been my expectation, my hope, that Australia would provide the leadership we desperately need on climate change.”
Evans, who served as foreign affairs minister in the Hawke and Keating governments, said that Australia’s recent behaviour in international forums was already impacting its reputation amongst Pacific neighbours.
“A country’s reputation for decency in these matters does really, really matter… Australia’s credibility in all sorts of ways depends on our being seen to be responsible, good international citizens and Australia is putting that reputation very much at risk on the climate front,” Evans said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been contacted for comment.