25 Jul 2017

China takes more of a lead with climate change efforts in the Pacific

2:22 pm on 25 July 2017

Small island states are turning to other nations like China to garner more support for climate change efforts in the region.

After the U.S. President Trump withdrew support from the Paris agreement, the international accord to restrict global warming, others are looking to fill the gap.

US President Donald Trump

US President Donald Trump Photo: AFP via CNP / DPA

Every day, Pacific nations are fighting for their islands' survival as they contend with the ongoing effects of climate change.

Fiji is the first small island state to preside over the conference of parties (COP23), the annual round of the ongoing UN climate negotiations later this year.

A policy analyst and consultant for the Fiji government, Joseph Veramu, said its Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama is on a mission to get developed nations to reduce emissions and China seems committed to do more to support.

"Fiji was the only Pacific nation invited to the Belt and Road, the global leadership meeting, that was held in Beijing in May and I understand that Frank Bainimarama met separately with the Chinese Premier and also with the Chinese President Xi Jinping."

Mr Veramu said they discussed climate change and the Paris agreement and the need to bring down global carbon emissions because effects are being felt in many Pacific countries.

Robin Nair (L) when he was Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama at prepartory talks for the UN Oceans Conference

Photo: Fiji Government

And one interesting observation is that as a result, Pacific nations have grown closer not only to China, but also the European Union and India.

"Both India and China they have also funded the Fiji COP 23 presidency and as well they have also signed an agreement for capacity building on climate change, so that is an area they will be working with Fiji and the Pacific."

He said the area of renewable energy is a particular focus and the EU has also come on board and been very supportive.

At this month's Climate Action Pacific Partnership Event in Suva where Pacific leaders gathered, Mr Veramu said they spoke passionately about environmental sustainability and how the need to act is urgent.

Terence Wesley Smith is the director of the Centre for Pacific Island studies at the University of Hawaii who believes Fiji is helping to pursue an alternative path forward.

"The sanctions to do with Fiji's 2006 coup, a lot of the driving force since then on behalf of other Pacific Island countries has been the issue of climate change and the ongoing lukewarm response particularly by Australia and to some extent New Zealand. So climate change has been this sort of spark to develop new ways of doing things in the region."

He said there are big implications on how the leaders view the U.S. now, but in the interim, China's profile has been rising.

"India and China don't have any direct ways of funding climate change adaptation change in the region and most of its efforts are ad hoc and support for regional organisations that are working on these issues, but I think China would be open to suggestions for perhaps a dedicated fund to help the region with its climate change adaptation efforts."

And said the fact China stays committed to the Paris Accord is significant.

"China has shown that it's serious about doing something about that and the fact it committed to the Paris Accord I think is very significant and the attitude from the Trump administration has allowed China to be seen as a leader of the global movement in a way that it wouldn't have perhaps been the case had the U.S. stayed with Paris."

The director of research at The Australian Institute think tank, Rod Campbell said China is getting more serious about climate change.

Mr Campbell said he lived in China for a few years and the air quality and use of coal for power and heating is a really big deal, but now there is this domestic political push for China to clean up its act.

Demonstrators protest President Donald Trump's decision to exit the Paris climate change accord.

Demonstrators protest President Donald Trump's decision to exit the Paris climate change accord. Photo: AFP

The Trump administration's withdrawal from the Paris Accord presents a huge opportunity for the Pacific to grab China's momentum on fossil fuel reduction and implementation of a coal mining moratorium while it eyes up jobs in the green economy.

"I think China is obviously pretty central to any international agreement as they are the biggest greenhouse gas emitter and the biggest coal user. So China is very important to any international climate change negotiation. But what is perhaps most interesting about China and the next round of negotiations is that China has already implemented a policy around no more new coal mines."

Fiji is chairing this year's UN Climate Change Conference, COP23 meeting in Bonn Germany this November.