RALPH REGENVANU. Vanuatu will host the next Pacific Islands Forum. We want to know if Australia really wants a seat at the table (The Guardian, 20 August 2019)   

Last week at the close of the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu I described the leaders’ discussions as frank and fierce. It is now well-known that the leaders debated the text of the Kainaki II Declaration for Urgent Climate Change Action Now for many hours. I do not want to comment on the tone of the debate, as many others have done that already.

Instead, as incoming Pacific Islands Forum chair, Vanuatu has a message for Australia: we ask that Australia prepares well ahead of the next forum meeting in 2020 and comes to the table ready to make real, tangible commitments on climate change.

The Australian prime minister has had the opportunity to hear directly from Pacific Island leaders – he knows what we want. The Pacific wants real commitments on climate change not because Tuvalu was a “humbug festival” but because the Pacific faces a climate emergency, with real existential threats to the future of atoll nations.

In my own country of Vanuatu where the population is overwhelmingly engaged in subsistence farming, we are experiencing increases in annual temperatures and dramatic changes to climate variability that impact both the availability of food and water. Climate change projections also forecast an increase in the intensity and frequency of tropical cyclones, like Cyclone Pam which hit Vanuatu in 2015, causing damage equivalent to over 64% of our GDP.

It is for this reason that Pacific Island leaders issued the Boe Declaration after the Pacific Islands Forum last year that stated that climate change was the single greatest threat to our livelihoods, security and wellbeing.

In the context of the pressing climate threat that faces the Pacific, Australia must understand that relationships in the region are not just about the funding of projects. You cannot maintain one message domestically and another in the region. All countries are sovereign and are subject to their own domestic policy. But the Pacific is asking for leadership on real action on climate change. As incoming forum chair, Vanuatu asks respectfully that Australia considers its position carefully on some of these issues so that we avoid a repeat of this year in Port Vila.

Pacific Island Forum decisions are based on consensus. This can be both a strength and a weakness. Vanuatu tries to engage constructively in these processes: our approach is that sometimes the negotiations can be difficult, but we can build consensus and move forward on these issues.

The baseline for action has been set. The final text of the Kanaiki II Declaration recognises the important work of the IPCC and the findings of the special report on global warming of 1.5C.

Paragraph 19 of the declaration includes some important commitments, and retains a greater strength of language than all previous climate change declarations issued by the forum. The declaration asks that all parties to the Paris agreement meet or exceed their nationally determined contributions; that all countries formulate mid-century, long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies by 2020; that members of the G7 and G20 phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and that the United Nations secretary general urgently appoint a special rapporteur on climate change and security.

We ask that Australia carefully considers these commitments, and moves forward into the United Nations climate summit and COP25 with renewed ambition to tackle the climate change threat that undermines our collective future.

Pacific leaders expect Australia to prepare to come to the forum next year ready to make further, tangible commitments on climate change. I have already written to my counterpart Marise Payne offering my support to make this happen. Without those commitments we have to ask, what is the Pacific Island Forum for? Does Australia want a seat at the table or not?

The declaration contains the words “to lead is to act”. We call on prime minister Morrison to lead on climate change. The Pacific wants action, and we want it now.

Ralph Regenvanu is Vanuatu’s minister for foreign affairs

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1 Response to RALPH REGENVANU. Vanuatu will host the next Pacific Islands Forum. We want to know if Australia really wants a seat at the table (The Guardian, 20 August 2019)   

  1. Anthony Pun says:

    In my article “Battle of the South Pacific” in JM, I discussed China’s soft power in the South Pacific. Australia’s rhetoric against Chinese influence was just words but no action. Now, Vanuatu has brought up an opportunity for Australia to commit itself to assist this Pacific neighbour and hopefully our PM would take this opportunity to compete with China’s influence in the region. However, this challenge costs money and commitment. Has Australian government got the will and finance to do it? Or would the US help? With US disbelieving in climate changes, we are on our own.

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