A leading Pacific region diplomat has added to a growing chorus of calls for the Morrison government to adopt a zero carbon target, saying that many countries in the region are facing an existential threat from climate change.
In a keynote speech to the Australasian Emissions Reduction Summit, secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum, Dame Meg Taylor, issued a plea for increased action on climate change, saying that the Pacific region was particularly vulnerable to the predicted impacts of rising temperatures.
“If there is any chance left to save ourselves from the climate crisis, we are going to have to act now,” Taylor told the summit.
“The very impact of global warming is being felt on a daily basis in all our countries. Our sea levels are rising and impacting coastal societies. The increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather patterns and events are inflicting unprecedented damage and destruction on our countries and economies.”
“Ocean acidification is re-orientating migratory patterns of tuna in our Pacific waters, which will have significant implications on Pacific economies and by relation the global fisheries trade,” Taylor added.
“In response, Pacific Island Forum leaders have consistently reaffirmed climate change as an existential threat to the region. It is the single greatest threat to the livelihood and the wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific. The science is clear; it is imperative that we limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels to ensure our children inherit a safe and healthy planet.”
Prime minister Scott Morrison has refused to commit Australia to a net zero emissions target, arguing the federal government was more focused on the development of new technologies.
But Taylor told the summit that the Pacific region was running out of time, and as the largest economy in the region, Australia had to act to cut emissions and phase-out the use of coal.
“Governments cannot keep saying, ‘we’re going to do it’, we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it’. We’ve reached a point now where we’ve got 1.2 degrees and we can’t afford to go beyond 1.5 [degrees],” Taylor said.
“If we don’t secure that for all of us, many of our places will not be here. That is a really hard reality.”
Taylor, who has served as the secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum since 2014, highlighted that Australia was not immune from the impacts of climate change and questioned whether the commitments made under the Paris Agreement were being honoured.
“In Australia, the bushfires at the start of this year were estimated to cost the Australian economy $5 billion in indirect losses and $20 billion in lost property,” Taylor told the summit.
“Five years on from the Paris Agreement, we must take stock and seriously ask ourselves, are we keeping our promises? Are we honouring our commitments in the agreement? Are we doing enough to influence positive behavioural change?”
“Climate change requires us to change. It requires drastic behavioural and policy change, underpinned by strong political commitment across all countries and regions in the Pacific region.”
Taylor praised the Australian states and territories for setting zero emissions targets, describing the commitments as a ‘win for humanity’ while saying that such a target should also be adopted at a national level in Australia.
“The commitment of Australian state governments to net zero carbon by 2050 is a win for humanity and we look forward to that same ambition at the federal level,” Taylor added.
Taylor, who will step down from the position as secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum in January, also called on the Australian business community to up the pressure on the Morrison government to adopt a formal commitment to achieving zero net emissions by 2050.
“To the business community, I encourage greater public and political push for an Australian national commitment to net zero emissions by 2050. Our Pacific region is the most impacted by climate change, and we need to be leading from the front,” Taylor said.
The Morrison government has had a strained relationship with the Pacific Islands Forum on the issue of climate change. Pacific states have called on Australia to demonstrate leadership on reducing emissions and to provide support for regional neighbours to adapt to the predicted impacts of global warming.
At a meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum held last year, prime minister Scott Morrison succeeded in getting the wording of a communique issued by leaders watered down, softening language around the need for countries to act on climate change and removing virtually all language calling for a phase-out of coal use.