Pacific forum demands climate action

June 27, 2014
The Coral Triangle, in south-east Asia and the Pacific, is home to the highest coral diversity in the world with 600 corals or 7

“The rising sea levels caused by global warming threaten the very existence of some of our neighbours,” Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama told the Pacific Island Development Forum (PIDF).

“Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands ― and are already swamping the coastal areas of many Pacific nations, including Fiji.”

The second conference of the PIDF took place in Fiji over June 18-20. The new regional body was initiated by Fiji last year to promote sustainable development in the Pacific. Unlike the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), Australia and New Zealand are excluded.

Fiji was expelled from the PIF in 2009 after Bainimarama's miltary government failed to hold elections. Other regional governments, however, have also voiced concerns that Australia and New Zealand dominate the PIF.

In his opening address to the conference, Bainimarama raised the issue of climate change's effects in the Pacific. He said the international community's will to act on climate change was “receding”.

In particular, he singled out Australia, saying: “This is certainly the case in our own region, where the election of the new government in Australia last September has seen a distinct change of rhetoric about cutting carbon emissions.”

Bainimarama attacked the policies of Prime Minister Tony Abbott's government, which has cut funding to scientific and climate-related bodies as well other measures.

He said: “I appeal to Australia and other countries not to behave selfishly over the catastrophic prospect facing Small Island Developing States.

“History will judge you harshly if you abandon us to our apparent fate of sinking below the waves because you don’t want to make the necessary adjustment to your domestic policies.”

The forum's keynote speaker was Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Youdhoyono, the first Indonesian president to visit any Pacific nation.

Yudhoyono said: “We need green economy because our world today is facing a great challenge from the impact of climate change. This is the reason why Indonesia has taken steps to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

“By 2020, we aim to cut our emissions by 26% using only our own resources, and up to 41% with international support.”

Yudhoyono pledged US$20 million to help Pacific countries against the impacts of climate change. He also raised the need for more countries to join the Coral Triangle Initiative, a body formed in 2009 to protect the coral reefs of the member nations Indonesia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Solomon Islands and East Timor.

The Coral Triangle is home to the highest coral diversity in the world with 600 corals or 76% of the world’s known coral species. It also has the highest reef fish diversity, with 2500 or 37% of the world’s reef fish species.

Indonesia's presence at the forum was far from purely benevolent. It is part of Indonesia's continuing efforts to build relations with Pacific island countries, especially Fiji, in a bid to win allies in the struggle against West Papuan self-determination.

Indonesia has occupied West Papua since the 1960s and has violently repressed the Papuan independence movement.

There are also economic incentives. Yudhoyono said two-way trade with the region was worth US$318 million last year. “We should aim to triple that amount to US$1 billion in the coming years,” he said.

In particular, he said: “[Fiji] is one of Indonesia's most important partners in the Pacific ... with your rich forests, mineral and fish resources, Fiji can serve as the engine of Pacfiic island countries' growth. The numerous MOUs to be signed today wil provide our two contries with stronger foundations to advance our future cooperation.”

China is another nation with a growing presence in the region. China's Special Envoy for the China-Pacific Islands Forum Dialogue, Du Qiwen called the Pacific Islands the world's most vulnerable countries to the impacts of environmental change and global warming.

China has been involved in many infrastructure projects in the Pacific in recent years, including clean energy, small hydropower plants, eco-farms and bio-gas projects. Last year, China announced $1 billion in concessional loans and $1 billion in special loans for infrastructure development of PICs.

Indonesia and China still engage in devastating environmental practices, such as large-scale deforestation in Indonesia and the huge growth of coal power in China. However, such rhetoric and pracitical measures still far surpass anything Austalia offers up.

A stated aim of the PIDF is to go beyond governments to involve the private sector and civil society. ANZ Fiji is managing a $5 million fund for helping customers purchase renewable energy equipment.

ANZ was present at the PIDF, saying it was renewing its “partnership with the World Bank and Fiji's Department of Energy to support the sustainable energy project”.

The bank said: “ANZ has been a key partner in syndicating with the China Development Bank for funding of the multi-million dollar Fiji Electricity Authority's Nadarivatu hydro dam scheme, for which we are now the sole financier.”

However, Oxfam's report Banking on Shaky Ground, released in April, found Australia's big four banks are involved in financing land grabs around the world. They also fund fossil fuel projects in Australia and abroad.

The presence of civil society can hopefully provide a counterweight. Emele Duituturaga, executive director of the Pacific Island Association on Non-government Organisations told ABC Radio National they were “cautiously optimistic” about the PIDF.

NGOs were delegates rather than just observers. Duituturaga said: “We had the floor, there was freedom for us to say what we needed to say.” NGO representatives said they needed to be genuine partners in the body.

They also raised issues around the definition of “green growth”. Duituturaga said: “There were some definitions we were worried about, suggesting that we don't do anything different, we just stop using biofuels.”

“But NGOs are saying 'no, we have to do things differently, we have problems with macroeconomics, we have problems with extractive industries, we have health problems and so we've got to do things differently.”

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