Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has promised to renew Australia’s standing in the region at the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in Fiji, pledging to “once again be a trusted global partner on climate action”.
However, “once again” is a mighty stretch because Australia has not been a good Pacific neighbour on climate action: Coalition and Labor governments have continued to mine and export fossil fuels on a scale that imperils the very future of Pacific Island nations.
Australia has been a bad Pacific neighbour on many other fronts as well.
Even as the PIF meets, the two wealthy imperialist states in the South Pacific — Australia and New Zealand — have sent their largest warships, as well as aircraft, mine warfare and clearance diving capabilities and a joint landing force, to take part in the United States-led Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) war exercises in and around Hawaii until August 4.
Valeria Morse, from Peace Action Wellington, told a “Cancel RIMPAC” protest in Wellington on July 8 that “RIMPAC is a show of US imperial might in the Pacific”.
Australia and New Zealand remain committed to supporting continuing US military domination of the region.
Defence minister Richard Marles called for a strengthening of Australia-US military collaboration to counter China in the Pacific, in a speech on July 12 to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.
CSIS receives funding from US weapons manufacturing corporations, including Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics and General Atomics, as well as fossil fuel companies such as Chevron.
Labor, cheered on by the corporate media, has been in lockstep with the former Coalition government in playing up concerns about China from the Pacific. Meanwhile, Pacific Island leaders argue that growing tension between the US and China does little to address the region’s single greatest threat — climate change.
The Labor government’s target of reducing emissions to 43% below 2005 levels by 2030 will not be anywhere near enough to save our Pacific neighbours from climate catastrophe, according to the Climate Council of Australia’s A fight for survival: Tackling the climate crisis is key to security in the Blue Pacific report.
It said global greenhouse gas emissions need to be halved by 2030 and that Australia’s target is on the low end compared to other developed countries.
The report was endorsed by key Pacific Island state figures, such as former Marshallese president Hilde Heine, former Palauan president Thomas “Tommy” Remengesau Jr, former I-Kiribati president Anote Tong, former Tuvaluan prime minister Enele Sopoaga, former PIF secretary general Meg Taylor, former US Congressperson and president of the University of Guam Robert Underwood, ambassador and former Fijian minister Kaliopate Tavola, University of the South Pacific academic and poet Konai Helu Thaman.
The report said the impacts of climate change in the Pacific are already being felt.
Pacific Island countries are increasingly affected by rising temperatures, storm surges, rising sea levels, droughts, coral bleaching, changing rainfall patterns and invasive species. Climate change is also intensifying tropical cyclones, with several category five cyclones in the past 10 years destroying infrastructure, crops and livestock and causing loss of life.
“Australia is the world’s third largest fossil fuel exporter and until recently has had some of the weakest emissions reduction targets in the developed world,” the report said. “Australia’s love affair with coal and gas must end. This means no more new coal and gas developments and a rapid transition to renewable energy … Based on its high emissions, economic strength and vast untapped opportunities for renewable energy, Australia should aim to reduce its emissions to 75% below 2005 levels by 2030.”
The report added that Australia should prioritise rejoining the Green Climate Fund and make new finance commitments to help Pacific countries deal with the growing impacts of the climate crisis.
If Australia’s new government really wants to become a good Pacific neighbour, these are some concrete starting points.
It should also be clear that ramping up the militarisation of the region to prepare for a US-led war against China is the opposite of good neighbourly behaviour: it continues Australia’s shameful “big brother” bullying in the South Pacific.
A good neighbour would break the war alliances with the US and other imperialist states, support self-determination in West Papua and stop spying on Timor Leste to help the fossil fuel corporations.
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