Movers and shakers in the fight against climate change are gathering for the United Nation’s Climate Ambition Summit in New York on Wednesday, while climate scientists and Pacific activists call on Australia to ramp up its own ambitions.
- The Australia Institute published an open letter from 200 climate scientists to halt new fossil fuel projects
- Pacific climate activists say Australia needs to meet them as “equal partners”
- Australian politicians are in New York for UN climate summit
The summit comes as the Australia Institute has published a full-page ad in the New York Times calling on the Australian government to halt “over 100 new coal and gas projects” in the pipeline.
The open letter, signed by over 200 scientists and experts, called on Australia to accelerate climate action, “not climate annihilation”.
The institute’s director, Dr Richard Denniss, is attending the UN climate summit and said Australia “wants to have it both ways” when it came to climate leadership and fossil fuels.
“On the one hand, we want the world to support our bid to host a COP,” he said, referring to the UN Climate Change Conference.
“But at the same time, we’re ignoring the UN and indeed, our Pacific neighbours’ calls on us to stop expanding fossil fuels.”
Australia has bid to co-host COP in 2026 with Pacific nations but the proposal has been met with criticism.
The ABC has approached Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen for comment.
‘You need to listen’, Pacific activists say
Usaia Moli, a Fijian climate activist and subsistence farmer, said that while the Pacific region viewed Australia as an older sibling, it was time the bigger country came to the table as “equal partners” in the fight against climate change.
“We feel and we know Australia needs to do a lot more than what is happening right now. They’ve made a lot of commitment in the past, but it’s about time they put resources into it,” he said.
Mr Moli, whose village was relocated due to rising sea levels, said Australia would have the Pacific’s support in hosting COP but it needs to “step up your work in the Pacific”.
“You need to come down and listen. You need to take a walk in our shores and our villages and our seas and our forests to know exactly what we are up against,” he said.
“People need to hear us because we are the experts when it comes to our issue. So, if you’re going to plan for us, make sure that you’re planning together with the first nations people of all Pacific.”
Another Fijian climate activist, Lavenia Yasikula Naivalu, called on the United Nations to give greater recognition to the importance of community-based solutions.
She leads grassroots climate action in her remote island community, including relocating buildings affected by rising sea levels, coral reef restoration and fisheries preservation.
“If I was going to be invited, I want to plead to world leaders, if we could have forums where we are included in the process, and that is climate justice,” she said.
“Include us grassroots people in decision making processes, because that is fair — we are the ones who are the victims.”
The pair were part of a Pacific delegation who were in Australia earlier this month meeting with parliamentarians and business leaders to call for greater climate financing in their region.
“It’s very important for us to come and tell the truth, so that whenever they [Australian leaders] represent the Pacific, they can represent us well, because we don’t have that opportunity. But Australia does have that opportunity,” Mr Moli said.
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden will host a second summit with leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum at the White House on Monday next week to discuss climate, economic growth, sustainable development.
It is widely being seen as part of the country’s efforts to step up engagement with a region where the US is in a battle for influence with China.
Australia ‘behind the eight ball’
The climate summit has been convened by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to showcase leaders from across government, business, finance, and society who are making concrete actions to keep alive the Paris Agreement goal of curbing global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
In July, Mr Guterres said the Earth had transitioned from global warming to “the era of global boiling”.
It is expected that some countries will use the summit to call on other nations to sign onto a first-of-its-kind fossil fuels non-proliferation treaty — a push from Pacific countries Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Tonga, Fiji, Niue and the Solomon Islands asking global leaders to phase out coal, gas and oil production.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Jenny McAllister, are in New York to attend the UN General Assembly and the climate summit. It is not clear whether they have been invited to address the summit.
Senator Wong, questioned by a reporter outside the summit, said Australia was trying to undertake “a big transition in a short space of time”.
“We will be, by 2030, in excess of 80 per cent renewable energy – when we came to government, we were just over 30 per cent,” Senator Wong said.
“We recognise our history and the nature of our economy … we are genuinely motivated to change that.”
In a statement, Ms McAllister said Australia was part of the international fight against climate change.
“I look forward to promoting Australia’s constructive role on climate change at home, in the Pacific and beyond as we build momentum towards this year’s Conference of the Parties (COP) in Dubai,” she said.
Dr Wesley Morgan, senior researcher at the Climate Council, is an expert in multilateral cooperation on climate change and said although Australia likes to think of itself as a leader on climate change, Pacific nations have been the real leaders for decades.
“Australia likes to claim it is a leader, but in contrast to the Pacific global climate leadership, Australia is a global climate laggard and unfortunately, is still behind the eight ball,” he said.
“The Pacific Island countries are the reason why we have the Paris Agreement and [it] is the only means we have to cooperate globally to cut emissions.”
Dr Morgan said that although the New York climate summit is a long way from the lived realities of Pacific communities, “the link is direct and it is crucial”.
“It is global summits like these that are crucially important for setting an agenda for moving away from coal, oil and gas and shifting to a global clean energy economy and that will mean survival for Pacific Island communities,” he said.
Dr Denniss said that Australia had the resources to be a Pacific leader on climate change, but it was yet to prove itself.
“Australia still spends around $11 billion a year on fossil fuel subsidies, yet when it comes to supporting Pacific nations with climate finance, and indeed disaster recovery, we spend a tiny percentage of that on our Pacific neighbours,” he said.
“I don’t blame them for wishing Australia would show leadership in this front, but to be clear, after decades, there’s no sign that that’s what Australia wants to become.”
Dr Denniss said the United Nations climate summits could achieve better outcomes if grassroots organisations were better platformed.
“I think that they do a better job these days of including diverse opinions, particularly from grassroots organisations in smaller countries. But I don’t think for a minute that those groups have anything like the access that the fossil fuel industry has, that big business has,” he said.
“If leaders spent more time talking to community organisations that represent people that really are in the frontline of the climate catastrophe … and less time listening to fossil fuel executives explaining the role that gas has to play in tackling climate change … I think we’d get much better outcomes if we had much broader consultations.”