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Annual forum puts heat on Australia

By KARL WILSON | China Daily | Updated: 2019-08-15 09:27

Alex Hawke (right), Australian minister for international development, receives gifts at the opening of the Pacific Islands Forum in Funafuti, Tuvalu, on Tuesday. [MICK TSIKAS/EPA]

Leaders of Pacific countries are eager to address the single dominating topic of their meeting in Tuvalu for the annual Pacific Islands Forum this week: climate change.

With a population of 11,000, the tiny nation of Tuvalu is one of the least developed nations in the world. It is made up of nine atolls that are fast being eroded by rising sea levels.

"This region faces issues vital to our future. Our leadership role is crucial to navigate the impacts of climate change for the Blue Pacific and for the planet," said Pacific Islands Forum Secretary-General Meg Taylor in a tweet ahead of the forum, which runs from Aug 13-16.

"Our destiny is at stake now."

Earlier this year, Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, toured the Pacific to get a firsthand look at how climate change is affecting the lives of ordinary people ahead of the Climate Action Summit in September.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to receive a cool reception by Pacific island leaders this week.

Australia has come under fire from several Pacific countries for its stand on climate change and its refusal to end its support for fossil fuels.

Michael O'Keefe, director of the international relations development at La Trobe University in Melbourne, said Morrison will likely try to avoid the climate change issue and focus on security instead. "I don't think that will wash with the Pacific leaders who want to see real action by Australia on climate change and not just empty words," he said.

"For those Pacific nations, climate change is real. It is impacting on their day-to-day lives and threatens their very survival."

Patrick Pringle, a research associate with Climate Analytics, a nonprofit climate science and policy institute in Berlin, noted that climate change is already having an impact on the Pacific islands.

Atoll countries like Tuvalu, Tokelau (located halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii), the Marshall Islands (between the Philippines and Hawaii) and Kiribati (in Micronesian islands) are all highly exposed to sea level rises," said Pringle.

Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said he expects stronger action from Australia, including phasing out coal-fired power generation. "I appeal to Australia to do everything possible to achieve a rapid transition from coal to energy sources that do not contribute to climate change," he said ahead of the forum on Monday.

"We face an existential threat that you don't face and challenges we expect your governments and people to more fully appreciate."

Raijeli Nicole, regional director of Oxfam in the Pacific, said: "The climate crisis is a matter of survival for our most vulnerable nations (in the Pacific). Right now, Australia's rising pollution and burgeoning fossil fuel exports are undermining our future."

She said the human toll and grave injustice of the climate crisis is clear for all to see in Tuvalu.

It is not only people's homes, food and water that are at stake. Put simply, Tuvalu's very existence is threatened by the climate crisis.

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