Co-hosting UNFCCC COP31: Opportunity for genuine partnership

Pacific leaders should not be in a hurry to meet Australia’s demands when they have ignored ours for years

Opinion piece by the Pacific Elders Voice

This week the Australian Minister for Climate Change and Energy will fly to Fiji to meet with Pacific Climate Ministers to galvanise their support for Australia’s bid to co-host the 2026 United Nations Climate Conference, COP31.

Australia’s national anthem includes amongst its lyrics ‘our home is girt by sea’. This line rings true of all the islands the make up the nations of the Pacific. It is a shared bond that brings us together.

It is also a bond that places us all on the front line of the climate crisis.

We hear the Secretary-General of the United Nations declare that we have surpassed the era of global warming and have now reached the era of ‘global boiling’. In the days after this statement, the sun set on the hottest month ever recorded on our
planet. Climate change, the climate crisis, global warming, global boiling. These phrases do not describe a future threat. They describe our reality.

Meeting with the secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum recently, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese acknowledged that “climate action is an absolute priority for the world, but has very specific and harsh consequences for our region and for the Pacific family”.
The Australian government calls us family and has promised to ‘stand shoulder to shoulder’ with us against the climate crisis.

While welcome, we note with concern the discord between Australia’s words, and its actions. We are told of Australia’s commitment to climate action and to meeting its commitments to the Paris climate accord. We are told of Australia’s ambition to be a renewable energy

Over the last year, we have watched as the Australian government has approved and endorsed new gas and coal and given billions of dollars in subsidies to fossil fuels. $1.5 billion went to a single gas export facility – this is more than double what it has allocated to climate finance in the Pacific over several years.

The emissions from a single gas project using this export facility will be seven times the combined annual emissions of Tuvalu, Nauru, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

The Australian Government does this while claiming to be working towards reducing emissions and meeting climate targets.

Yet we see Australia, in two recent, separate international negotiations, block a move proposed by countries within its ‘Pacific family’ to decarbonise the shipping industry, and argue it has no historical responsibility its contribution to the climate change affecting
vulnerable communities.

As the world grapples with record-breaking temperatures and extreme weather events, Australia continues to pursue an aggressive expansion of its fossil fuel industry, the unequivocal primary driver of climate change. And it is in this context that Australia is proposing standing shoulder to shoulder with us on the global stage – as co-hosts the 2026 UN Climate Change Conference (COP31).

The voices of small island states have been consistently held back from opportunities on the global stage. Hosting a major climate conference, of international significance and with the potential to highlight the existential threat that looms large over our islands should – and could – be a remarkable opportunity.

And yet, how can we join this bid, shoulder to shoulder with our neighbor, when to date, their climate commitments have been little more than empty gestures? It’s about what you do before, during, and after those conferences that truly counts. It’s about real, concrete action. Without it, your promises are just hollow words.

If Australia truly wants to stand shoulder to shoulder with us, on the global stage of COP31, it is not enough to talk about climate change; real, tangible action needs to follow. In March 2023, Ministers and officials from six of our Pacific countries – Vanuatu, Tuvalu,
Tonga, Fiji, Niue, and the Solomon Islands – came together in the Port Vila Call for a Just Transition to a Fossil Fuel Free Pacific. It produced a call for the end of fossil fuel subsidies: within the Pacific, and globally, saying that “this is a crisis driven by the greed of an
exploitative industry and its enablers.”

The Paris Climate Agreements. The Port Villa Call. And end to new coal and gas projects. The path forward for Australia is clear. It starts by halting all new fossil fuel projects and ending subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. It means investing in renewable energy sources
and taking the lead in implementing policies that prioritise the health of our planet over profits.

Pacific leaders cannot seriously offer their support to a partner who lacks the genuine courage and integrity to take these steps. Australia has ignored the concerns of the Pacific for decades. Yet when the Australian Government wants something from us we are expected to commit wholeheartedly.

It is our recommendation that Pacific Leaders defer their decision to support Australia’s bid until Australia has made come concrete progress on ending support for fossil fuels. The impacts of climate change are not a distant concern. They’re happening here and now, and they’re disproportionately affecting Pacific Island nations like ours.

We are Australia’s allies. Australia’s neighbors. Australia’s family’. We ask that we are treated as such.

More statements

While the world’s biggest polluters dominate the headlines this week at the UN climate summit with an array of sensationalist pledges and announcements, designed mainly to distract us all from a lack of real climate action, one of the biggest scandals of all is taking place right under our noses.

The Pacific Elders’ Voice (PEV) welcomes the hosting of 52nd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting (PIFLM52) from 06 – 10 November 2023 in Rarotonga under the theme of “Our Voices, Our Choices, Our Pacific Way: Promote, Partner, Prosper”.

Japan and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)’s reckless decision to discharge over 1.3 million tonnes of nuclear-contaminated wastewater into our Blue Pacific is a testimony to the dangers of nuclear power.