Island leaders hold their ground, as Australia and New Zealand fail once more to stand with the Pacific

Media Releases article written on the 11 Sep 2015

Pacific Island leaders have refused to negotiate on their survival, despite pressure by Australia and New Zealand at the Pacific Islands Forum to weaken the Pacific position on climate change.

Recently returned from the forum in Papua New Guinea, Oxfam Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke said that Pacific Island leaders had remained steadfast on the need for action, refusing to let go of key demands ahead of the Paris climate negotiations, including for a goal to limit the global temperature rise to below 1.5°C.

“Pacific Island leaders have made it clear at the closing of this forum that they will be taking their own position to the Paris negotiating table” Dr Szoke said.

“The past week has seen the most urgent and unequivocal statements to date from Pacific Island leaders and civil society about the dangers facing the Pacific, and a clarion call for greater action from Australia and New Zealand,” Dr Szoke said.

“The message has been loud and clear: For the Pacific, climate change is a question of survival. Pacific Island leaders are not willing compromise when the very future of Pacific communities is at stake.”

Not long after final release of the PIF Leaders Communiqué, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton were caught on camera joking about the threat of rising seas in the Pacific.

“As I saw recently with my own eyes in Kiribati, rising seas are a real and present threat to Pacific communities and already a source of immense hardship and anxiety. It beggars belief that Minister Dutton and Prime Minister Abbott would see this as something to joke about,” Dr Szoke said.

On Tuesday the Smaller Islands States Leaders issued a powerful declaration urging the Paris negotiations to deliver a legally binding agreement that will limit the global average temperature rise to well below 1.5°C, ensure ease of access to finance and support with transitioning to fossil-fuel free economies and adapting to the impacts of climate change, and address the permanent loss and damage in cases where it is impossible to adapt.

“The final Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Declaration on Climate Change Action, agreed between all Forum members including Australia and New Zealand, while a step in the right direction has failed to fully represent these categorical calls to action from Pacific Island countries and territories,” Dr Szoke said.

“By defending their woefully inadequate emissions reduction targets and failing to adequately back urgent calls for stronger action, Australia and New Zealand have once again shown they are willing to accept a future of even more hardship for their Pacific neighbours.”

While acknowledging that a temperature increase of 1.5°C “would severely exacerbate the particular challenges facing the most vulnerable smaller island states”, the final PIF statement failed to call for a strengthening of the internationally agreed goal to limit the temperature increase to 2°C. And while recognizing that there must be separate provisions to address unavoidable loss and damage from climate change, such as lost land and livelihoods, failed to call for these to be included in the Paris agreement.

The close of the 46th Pacific Islands Forum comes a few days before Sunday’s 6-month anniversary of Cyclone Pam.

“The devastation from Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu and severe flooding in the low-lying nations of Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands from rising seas were a terrifying reminder of the impacts of climate change on Pacific Islands,” Dr Szoke said.

To arrange interviews or for more information contact Oxfam Australia Media Coordinator Bianca Wordley on 0407 799 365.