14 Aug 2019

New Zealand caught in the middle of Australia's climate change tussle with the Pacific

9:50 pm on 14 August 2019

New Zealand has become caught in the middle of the stoush brewing between Australia and Pacific leaders in Tuvalu over climate change.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison meeting with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Government House in Auckland.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison meeting with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Government House in Auckland earlier this year. Photo: Pool / Diego Opatowski / AFP

Pacific countries want Australia to take stronger action on climate change domestically, a demand Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison has so far rebuffed.

As the leaders meet for the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in Tuvalu's capital, Funafuti, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's position will be crucial to determining what the group of leaders can agree upon.

Mr Morrison yesterday announced a $500 million package of funding, redirected from aid spending, to help Pacific countries invest in renewable energy and become more resilient to climate and weather events.

Tuvalu's prime minister Enele Sopoaga speaking at the opening of the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Funafuti. August 2019

Enele Sopoaga. Photo: Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

But Tuvalu's Prime Minister, Enele Sopoaga, warned that the climate money should not be used by Australia as an excuse to avoid reducing emissions and phasing out coal-fired power generation.

Today, Ms Ardern has backed calls by the leaders of Tuvalu and Fiji that every country must commit to greater cuts in carbon emissions.

"Like our Pacific Island neighbours, we will continue that international call," she said.

"We will continue to say that New Zealand will do its bit and we have an expectation that everyone else will as well - we have to.

"New Zealand, relative to other nations, has a relatively small emissions profile, however, if we all took the perspective that if you're small it doesn't matter, we wouldn't see change.

"Every single little bit matters."

Ms Ardern would not give a direct answer when pressed on whether Australia's commitment under the Paris Agreement to cut emissions by 26 to 28 per cent was adequate, as other Pacific leaders have said.

"Australia has to answer to the Pacific [and] that's a matter for them," she said.

The leaders at the PIF meeting in Funafuti are expected to come to a consensus on a statement on climate change, which is being negotiated over the course of the week.

Australia is pushing back against plans to include in the statement a timeframe for phasing out the use of coal-fired power generation and committing more funding to the UN-backed Green Climate Fund that supports developing countries.

Ms Ardern did not rule out New Zealand making future contributions to the Green Climate Fund, but echoed concerns Australia has raised about its efficacy.

"Some of our Pacific neighbours haven't been able to access climate finance," she said.

"That some of the direct funding that we're able to put in around protecting water supply, around coastal hazards, that's equally important too.

"So you'll see from some our aid and development support, we've gone directly while also acknowledging the multilateral institutions and funds."

At a function with the leaders of Tuvalu and Nauru, Mr Morrison committed to "talk[ing] about the future of the environment".

"When families come together, they talk about the stuff that matters, what's most important to them," he said.

Mr Morrison is yet to directly address the Pacific leaders' climate change concerns, but has promised to talk about it.

"To step up, you have to show up and Australia is going to show up," he said.

"We're going to show up for the hard conversations, the good conversations, the family conversations."


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