Pacific elders to Australia: No support for your COP31 bid until you end fossil fuel subsidies

August 29, 2023
Pacific Island elders said they cannot join Australia’s bid to host COP31, when its 'climate commitments have been little more than empty gestures'. Photo: 350org/Flickr CC By NC SA 2.0

Labor Treasurer Jim Chalmers’ recently released Intergenerational Report 2023 (IR2023) bases its climate predictions on a terrifying forecast: that global warming will exceed the Paris Agreement’s target of 1.5°C.

Climate scientists say the world is definitely on track for this, and worse.

While IR2023 estimates the economic outlook over coming decades, its projections — at least on climate — are guided by Labor’s completely inadequate policy.

Labor’s 43% carbon emissions reduction by 2030 target, with its “safeguard mechanism” that enables carbon pollution to continue, has been widely criticised. One hundred and sixteen new coal, oil and gas projects are in the pipeline for assessment — the equivalent of 215 new coal fired power stations.


BOM graph of average sea and air temperature changes. Graph: Intergenerational Report 2023

No wonder Pacific elders are speaking out against Australia’s bid to host COP31, scheduled for 2026.

Chris Bowen, Minister for Climate Change, proposed last year that Australia host the meeting together with its Pacific “family”, saying it was a chance to “help restore Australia’s reputation”.

Pacific elders released their statement on August 28 as Bowen flew to Fiji to press his case.

They spoke of their concern with the “discord” between “Australia’s words and its actions”.

While IR2023 noted the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) concerns that average global warming could exceed 1.5°C “before 2040” or even “exceed 2°C or 3°C”, it focused on “well-designed emissions mitigations measures”.

Not a word about limiting gas or coal projects. Instead, it talked them up.

Australia, it said, is one of the world’s largest exporters of coal, natural gas and iron ore “with substantial, high quality resource deposits expected to last for many more decades [my emphasis]”.

Then, it said: “As temperature increases approach 2°C, the risk of crossing thresholds which cause nonlinear tipping points in the Earth system, with potentially abrupt and not yet well understood impacts, also increases...

“The latest findings of the IPCC make clear that deep, rapid, and immediate greenhouse gas reductions are needed to limit warming to 1.5 to 2°C.”

Is it cognitive dissonance, or something much more material, behind Labor’s decision to continue on from where the Coalition government left off?

Climate activist and author David Spratt and former oil and gas CEO Ian Dunlop argue in Pearls and Irritations that IR2023 “dumbs down” the implications of climate change, thereby helping institutionalise global failure.

“The report gives the impression that 2, 3 or even 4°C temperature increases would be relatively benign, readily adapted to with some free-market policy juggling,” they said.

“The reality is that 3°C would be catastrophic and 4°C beyond the limits of human survivability in many parts of the world, Australia included.”

Australia’s climate vandalism

As Bowen was in Fiji making his case, Pacific elders pointed out some home truths.

“Over the last year, we have watched as the Australian government has approved and endorsed new gas and coal and given billions of dollars in subsidies to fossil fuels. $1.5 billion went to a single gas export facility [the Tamboran, Fortescue Middle Arm LNG plant in Darwin] — this is more than double what it has allocated to climate finance in the Pacific over several years.

“The emissions from a single gas project using this export facility will be seven times the combined annual emissions of Tuvalu, Nauru, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

“The Australian Government does this while claiming to be working towards reducing emissions and meeting climate targets.”

The elders criticised Australia for twice blocking proposals by Pacific Island nations to decarbonise the shipping industry.

They said while the world needs to hear the voices of small island states, and the COP could be a “remarkable opportunity”, they cannot join Australia’s bid when its “climate commitments have been little more than empty gestures”.

Australia takes no “historical responsibility [for] its contribution to the climate change affecting vulnerable communities … If Australia truly wants to stand shoulder to shoulder with us, on the global stage of COP31, it is not enough to talk about climate change; real, tangible action needs to follow.”

They said Australia should respect the Port Vila Call for a Just Transition, established by Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Tonga, Fiji, Niue and the Solomon Islands in March, and ratified by the Melanesian Spearhead Group on August 25.

They said fossil fuel subsidies must end, adding: “This is a crisis driven by the greed of an exploitative industry and its enablers”.

“Pacific leaders cannot seriously offer their support to a partner who lacks the genuine courage and integrity to take these steps.”

The elders want Pacific leaders to defer a decision on Australia’s COP bid until Australia shows it is ending its support for fossil fuels.

“The impacts of climate change are not a distant concern. They’re happening here and now, and they’re disproportionately affecting Pacific Island nations like ours.”

The Australia Institute’s Polly Hemming is backing the Pacific leaders’ concerns, saying in June that Australia needs to demonstrate how it is fulfilling the Pacific nations’ requests.

Hemming said Australia is talking up its support for “climate finance” to developing countries through to 2025. But $700 million for Pacific climate and disaster finance is significantly less than the $11 billion the government provides in fossil fuel subsidies every year, she noted.

It is also half of the amount committed over the next four years to “defence”, “law enforcement” and “to build Pacific peace and security” in Australia's latest federal budget.

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