Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga Says Australia's Climate Change Inaction Undermines Its 'Pacific Pivot'

ABCStephen Dziedzic

The Prime Minister of Tuvalu Enele Sopoaga has warned Australia that its "Pacific pivot" risks being fatally undermined by its climate change policies ahead of crucial talks in Poland.

Mr Sopoaga says there's no point talking about economic growth unless climate change is addressed (The World)

Key points
  • Tuvalu's PM made the comments ahead of COP24, the most important climate talks since the Paris agreement
  • He says Australia's return to the Pacific undermined by climate change inaction
  • Tuvalu is particularly vulnerable to climate change, being made up of low-lying atolls
Australia has unveiled an ambitious suite of policies to cement its position in the region and push back against China, including a massive new infrastructure bank and an ambitious move to electrify much of Papua New Guinea.
But Mr Sopoaga has declared climate change could "totally destroy" his tiny Pacific nation, and he called on Australia to help fight it by blocking the contentious Adani coal mine in Queensland and making deeper cuts to carbon emissions.
"We cannot be regional partners under this step-up initiative — genuine and durable partners — unless the Government of Australia takes a more progressive response to climate change," Mr Sopoaga said.
"They know very well that we will not be happy as a partner, to move forward, unless they are serious."

Tuvalu's low-lying atolls are particularly vulnerable
Fuel drums are being used as sea walls to provide protection against coastal erosion in southern Funafuti, Tuvalu. (Oxfam: Rodney Dekker)
Delegates from almost 200 countries are gathering in the city of Katowice for the COP24 talks, the most important UN meeting on global warming since the landmark Paris deal.
The talks are designed to get all 195 countries to agree to a binding set of conventions in order to reduce carbon emissions.
Tuvalu is made up of nine low-lying coral atolls and its highest point is only 4.5 metres above sea level, making it particularly vulnerable to climate change.
US President Donald Trump has already pulled the US out of Paris and Mr Sopoaga warned the world risked "going backwards" unless countries made concrete commitments to cut pollution.
He also revealed all Pacific nations — including Australia and New Zealand — would sign a "new declaration" on climate change during the talks in Poland.
"The idea is to further project to our world the necessity and imperative of collective actions against climate change," Mr Sopoaga told the ABC.
"There's no point of talking about economic growth unless you deal with the issue of climate change and sea level rise."
Pacific nations tip-toe around Canberra
Abbot Point is located about two hours south of Townsville, near vast coal reserves Adani is looking to exploit. (Supplied)
Some Pacific nations have been pushing for the declaration to specifically call for coal mining to be phased out.
But Mr Sopoaga indicated Pacific nations had agreed to use softer language in order to get Australia on board.
"It will focus on the necessity of moving to renewable-energy-based economies which is safe and friendly to the environment, and impress on all parties the need to develop renewable technology," he said.
Mr Sopoaga wasn't purely critical of Australia — he praised Prime Minister Scott Morrison for resisting calls to get out of the Paris deal, and said Australia was "seriously looking" at taking a more ambitious approach on renewable energy.
But he pleaded with the Coalition to prevent Indian company Adani from pressing ahead with its plan to open a new coal mine in Queensland, although the project has been scaled down.
"This will only go into causing a lot of serious damage to the environment, and eventually causing destruction to the people of the Pacific", Mr Sopoaga said.
"So it is my strong prayer that Australia will reconsider opening this new coal mine."


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