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Australia at odds with neighbouring nations on new coal and gas projects at Pacific Islands Forum | Climate crisis

Australia has resisted calls from the Pacific for no new gas or coal projects, saying it was not responsible for other countries’ emissions, in a move that could cause tensions as Pacific leaders meet in Suva this week.

Pacific leaders, who have labelled the climate crisis the most serious security challenge facing the region, have voiced optimism about the commitment to action from the new Australian government. Current and former leaders have welcomed Australia’s increased targets for the reduction of greenhouse emissions and a willingness to engage with Pacific countries on subjects like climate finance and the proposal to co-hosting a Conference of the Parties climate summit with Pacific countries.

However, a key demand of Pacific nations – that Australia commit to no new coal or gas projects – will remain a point of difference between Australia and Pacific nations, as Anthony Albanese arrives in Fiji on Wednesday ahead of the Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting.

Penny Wong, Australia’s new foreign minister, said she had not been asked by Pacific leaders to commit to no new coal or gas projects and that the coalmines and gas projects would be dealt with “in accordance with the normal processes”.

Analysis by climate activist group the Sunrise Project found that the Albanese government could face decisions on whether to approve up to 27 coal mining developments – 13 greenfield coalmines and 14 extensions of existing mines – based on applications lodged under national environment laws.

Not all of these will be presented for federal approval, as some are paused and others still require approval from state authorities, but the analysis suggested it could be a significant issue in this term of parliament.

Simon Kofe, the foreign minister of Tuvalu, who is representing his country at the Pacific Islands Forum, said that this position on coal and gas projects would put Australia at odds with Pacific Island countries.

“I mean, that’s one of the issues that we were at odds with the previous government [about]. But we will work with the new government to try and change their stance on that,” he said.

Kofe, who shot to international attention when he recorded a speech for the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow standing knee-deep in seawater to highlight the effect of the climate crisis on Tuvalu, said that Pacific leaders were “very hopeful” about the new Australian government.

“The messaging that’s coming from them is very positive. So we’re hopeful that we can work on the issues that the Pacific is pushing for … we’re very hopeful that they will be on the same page as the Pacific.”

Tuvalu, with a population, of about 12,000 people, is considered one of the most vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis, with scientists saying that its islands could become fully submerged and its entire population forced to leave within 50 to 100 years.

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Kofe said for a country like Tuvalu, having Pacific Islands Forum countries on the same page about the climate crisis was crucial.

“The stakes are extremely high for Tuvalu. Because this is the first body that you need to convince and we need to come together before we even reach out to the international community.”

The call for Australia to achieve a rapid transition from coal has been made by Pacific leaders for years. At the opening of the last Pacific Islands Forum in 2019, Fiji’s prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, directly asked Australia to move away from coal-powered energy and “to more fully appreciate” the “existential threat” facing Pacific nations.

“Put simply, the case for coal as an energy source cannot continue to be made,” he said.

Ahead of this year’s Pacific Islands Forum, a group of former Pacific leaders, called the Pacific Elders Voice, called on Australia to commit to no new coal or gas projects.

“The latest assessments are clear: global emissions must be halved during this decade. There is no room for new coal and gas,” wrote the group,” in a foreword to a report by the Climate Council.

Pat Conroy, Australia’s minister for the Pacific, who is in Suva attending the Pacific Islands Forum, said he did not believe the issue of new coal or gas projects would be a sticking point at this year’s summit.

“When I talk to Pacific leaders, what they’re really optimistic about, what they are really happy and positive about is the fact that for once we’ve got an Australian government that is taking action on climate change, that is committed to strong domestic targets and playing our part in their global advocacy.”

“I respect the deeply held views of many people in this debate and that’s their absolute right. But I just go back to we are responsible under the UNFCCC treaties, the Paris Treaty, for example, [we are responsible] for scope one and two emissions produced in our country. And we will take the courageous approach of reducing our emissions by 43%,” he said.

“Going down this road, of looking at exported emissions, really implies either completely rewriting the entire UN climate treaty process or double-counting of emissions, and I don’t think that’s productive and I think we should be focused on reducing our emissions and playing a strong global role.”

Conroy added that Australia’s biggest contribution would be to reduce its domestic emissions and be part of global efforts to decarbonise, which will down the track lead to reduced demand for fossil fuels.

“If Australia stopped exporting coal and gas and it wasn’t a commensurate reduction in global demand for coal and gas, there wouldn’t actually be a reduction in global emissions.”

Read More: Australia at odds with neighbouring nations on new coal and gas projects at Pacific Islands Forum | Climate crisis

2022-07-12 00:33:00

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