Thursday, July 31, 2014

Sinking Pacific Islands

English: Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Su...
Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Suva, Fiji (Wikipedia)
by Matt Thistlethwaite, Online Opinion:

In May this year I met with 19-year-old Apisaloma Tawati from Kiribati and 27-year-old Seimila Filoma from Tuvalu.

These well-spoken ambassadors were visiting Australia on an important mission - to make Australian politicians understand the urgency of taking real action on climate change.

In Australia and most of the developed world we talk of climate change as a looming threat.

But Apisaloma and Seimila's language was different. They spoke of the present danger of global warming.

They outlined how lack of rain and rising sea levels was affecting their local communities and threatened the future of their coral island homes perched precariously in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

For a couple of young people inexperienced in international political advocacy, Apisaloma and Seimila articulated their concerns with clarity and passion.

Lack of rain is affecting water supplies and traditional crops such as coconuts and breadfruit are dying. The rising salt water contaminates freshwater supplies and crops, while warmer sea temperatures bleach coral, threatening fish stocks and a major source of food for the people.

Road infrastructure is regularly becoming flooded and damaged.

To them the issue is as clear as the water that surrounds their atolls, the water that has nourished life in their communities for thousands of years, and that now threatens the future of their people.

It is estimated that a sea level rise of 8–16 inches in the next 100 years could make Kiribati and Tuvalu, which at their highest rise about 6 feet above sea level, uninhabitable.

This week leaders representing 15 Pacific Island nations will travel to Palau in the western Pacific Ocean to participate in the Pacific Islands Forum.

Climate change will feature on the agenda and political leaders will have the opportunity to talk about what their Governments are doing to mitigate the impact of climate change on islands states such as Kiribati and Tuvalu.

Representing the Abbott Government will be Deputy Prime Minister, Warren Truss and Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Brett Mason.

This relatively high profile duo will have their work cut out explaining the Abbott Government's approach to an issue that literally threatens the livelihoods of thousands of the people these Pacific Island leaders represent.

One of the Abbott Government's earliest decisions on climate change was to withdraw its support for a Commonwealth Green Capital Fund, an initiative which would have assisted low lying Pacific Island nations to cope with climate emergencies.

Then in the May budget the Abbott Government announced $7.6 billion in cuts to foreign aid over four years, with $110 million in cuts to the Asia Pacific in the first year alone.

At the last Pacific Islands Forum in September 2013 member nations, Australia included, adopted the Majuro Declaration, committing to our neighbours to take action on climate change. As a nation we committed to support renewable energy generation and technology development, and re-committed to reduce emissions by 5 per cent by 2020.

Now Australia is reviewing its renewable energy target with the real prospect of a reduction in the target.

Then to add insult to injury two weeks ago Australia became the first nation in the world to remove a national price on carbon emissions and move backwards on climate change policy. This has been met with utter disbelief and despair in the Pacific.

In May this year Tony de Brum, the foreign Minister for the Marshall Islands said, "Australia has always been our friend but the change in their government last year has resulted in problems".

In June Kiribati's President, Anote Tong expressed his nation's frustration about Australia's actions when he said, "We're not talking about the growth GDP, we're not talking about what it means in terms of profit and losses of the large corporations, we're talking about our survival".

These are not the musings of commentators. They are the views of leaders of our neighbouring nations about Australian Government action. They are a powerful indictment on Australian government policy.

Many talk of climate change as a future cost. Australia is already assisting our friends and neighbours with the costs if climate change.

In June 2013 then Foreign Minister Bob Carr announced Australia would fund life-saving water and emergency food in response to severe drought in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, a $485,000 commitment to match an earlier, similar Labor Government commitment.

As the Pacific Islands Forum kicks off in Palau I hope our Pacific neighbours understand that Warren Truss and Brett Mason do not speak for all Australians when they outline our Government's response to climate change.

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