Australia removes mentions of coal from Pacific Island Forum communique

Pacific Island leaders have indicated that after 12 hours of negotiation, the statement given by Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not reflect the smaller islands’ priorities. The Pacific Island Forum was held in Tuvalu, where leaders from 18 states including Australia met and discussed economic, trade and environmental policy. While the final communique released by the group of leaders indicated that “the time to act [on climate change] is now”, certain island leaders like Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga have claimed that criticisms of the regions’s coal industry were removed from the draft throughout the negotiations, due to Australia’s economic reliance on the industry and fears that China will increase its influence in the region if Australia’s economy were to experience decline. Brief reference was made to potential international threats in the communique, with the line “However, we are concerned that progress within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) must keep pace with the challenges we face today and in the future, in line with the Boe Declaration on Regional Security”. The Boe Declaration identifies climate change as a regional security threat while keeping geopolitical disputes and transnational crime in mind.

The communique called international communities to action, stating that “The science is non-negotiable. Urgent action by the international community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is critical to keep us on the 1.5°C pathway.” Despite the non-negotiable nature of climate change science, statements from Pacific Island leaders indicate that negotiations were rampant throughout the forum. Vocal Pacific Islanders have claimed that Morrison strong-armed the negotiations, and strictly adhered to Australia’s “red lines” in the drafting of the communique, removing all mentions of the coal industry and associated climate risks. Sopoaga and others have described the final draft as “watered down” and “disappointing”. Coal has historically made up the majority of Australia’s fuel mix and economy, which made it a point of dispute throughout the forum. With regards to climate action, “bold and innovative solutions” were mentioned but not described in detail.

The Pacific Island leaders do not feel involved in Australia’s contentious relationship with China, and fear that delaying a coal phase-out could result in climate and environmental degradation that will force islanders away from their ancestral homes.

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