The La Trobe University Emeritus Professor and Pax Christi member was commenting on the outcome of the Pacific Islands Forum held on the tiny Pacific nation of Tuvalu. Australia refused to support the Tuvalu Declaration in which the smaller islands called for acknowledgement of a climate change crisis.
“Despite repeated pleas from our Pacific neighbours, we stymied their efforts to get Pacific-wide consensus in favour of drastic reductions of greenhouse gas emission,” Prof Camilleri said.
“Tuvalu’s Prime Minister felt compelled to tell Scott Morrison: ‘You are concerned about saving your economy … I am concerned about saving my people’.
“During a recent trip to the South Pacific in May, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres declared Tuvalu to be on the extreme frontlines of the global climate emergency.
“Rather than heed these words, we prefer to fiddle while Rome is burning.”
Prof Camilleri said the Prime Minister’s pledge of $500 million to help Pacific nations invest in renewable energy and ‘climate and disaster resilience’ over the next five years was “pitifully short of the mark”.
“There is little the Island nations can do, regardless of how much they invest in renewable energy (useful though this is), to avert the likelihood of sea level rises and extreme weather events,” he said.
“The policy change that is vital to success is an immediate phasing out of the coal industry in Australia, which means no opening of new mines, and the closure of existing ones within a strict time limit – 2030 by the latest.
“This would go hand in hand with a much higher target in greenhouse gas emissions than the one to which we’re presently committed, which is to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.
“Instead of adopting a higher target, as the Pacific Islands have asked us to do time and again, since 2015 our emissions have been going up year on year.
“Australia should be playing a leading role in concert with Pacific Island states on the international stage, with a view to securing a more ambitious and binding agreement – rather than the voluntary commitments as of now.”
He called on Australia to initiate a comprehensive nationwide educational program, with the support of churches and other faiths, schools, colleges and universities, trade unions, professional associations and media.
“To facilitate such a program, Pacific leaders should be invited to visit Australia for high exposure speaking tours to alert all sections of the community to the dire dangers that lie ahead should governments and the corporate sector fail to act quickly and ambitiously.”
He warned that even with our best efforts, climate change would likely lead to substantial displacement of peoples in the Pacific Islands.
“In that event, Australia should offer to resettle a significant number in Australia, and provide them with a generous package to make the transition as smooth as possible,” he said.
Prof Camilleri suggested that an objective of the Morrison Government in providing funds was to persuade Pacific nations to become less reliant on Chinese aid, and especially to deny China access to port facilities and anything else which can be construed as a strategic advantage.
“In other words, Australia wants its Pacific neighbours to avoid doing anything which can in any way challenge the almost complete dominance which Australia and the United States have exercised until now,” he said.
Prof Camilleri also criticised the decision to divert money from Australia’s aid program which had “drastically shrunk” over the last few years to “persuade Pacific leaders to accept this unpalatable situation”.
Caritas Australia director of Advocacy Nic Nelson also expressed disbelief that the money was being drawn from the aid budget.
“It’s worrying that a portion of the funds, up to $140 million, is being redirected from existing, essential elements of the aid budget that are often used for education funding and healthcare services,” he said.
“The Boe Declaration, a multi-nation Pacific statement released in 2017, affirms that climate change is the single greatest threat to the livelihood, wellbeing and security of the people of this region.
“Yet this latest Pacific climate package does not contend with the underlying threat which Australia’s carbon emissions pose to the wellbeing and security of the entire region.”
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