Pacific nations see Australia as a “big brother” that must take more leadership on climate change to protect neighbours on the front lines of its impacts.
That’s the message from a Solomon Island’s representative as 350 delegates from around 30 Asia-Pacific countries gather in the nation’s capital for the 28th Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum.
Rising sea levels, food security and the threat of natural disasters are critical concerns for many island nations, which used the meeting to call for stronger action against global warming.
Deputy Opposition Leader of the Solomon Islands Peter Kenilorea Junior Source: SBS News
Solomon Islands Deputy Opposition Leader Peter Kenilorea Junior said he wants to see bigger neighbours in the region show more leadership.
“Climate change is an existential threat to us,” he said.
“We feel that Australia has a strong voice globally – many of us see Australia as a big brother … so we would like to see Australia perhaps stepping up and taking more of a leadership role.”
As unprecedented bushfires have seen the Morrison government under scrutiny over its climate policy, the issue of global warming has been prominent at the meeting of Asia-Pacific nations.
But Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has continued to defend his government’s approach saying it is on track to meet and beat its emissions targets.
“Australia has been carrying its weight, in fact, we’ve been over-performing in comparison to many other similar countries, he told reporters in Canberra.
“Particularly in relation to 2020 and I believe the same will be true in 2030.”
Delegates at the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum in Canberra. Source: SBS News
The Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum sees Parliamentarians join to discuss critical concerns affecting the region.
Jerrlyn Uduch Sengebau, from the Palau National Congress, said the meeting was a chance to pressure nations to step up their climate change response.
“We can get to ask these big countries to cut down on their emissions because we’re the ones who suffer,” she said.
“It’s like at the end of the river… one is upstream, we feel the effects of what they do upstream.”
Senior of the Palau National Congress Jerrlyn Uduch Sengebau. Source: SBS News
Malaysia’s Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives Mohd Rashid Hasnon was also among those calling for some nations at the forum to do more to combat the threat.
“The steps taken by each of the countries has got to be more concerted, more aggressive, somethings things are taken for granted,” he said.
A New Zealand MP has also urged Australia to consider reintroducing a climate change commission to remove politics from the debate.
The Gillard Labor government set up an independent climate commission in 2011 but it was abolished two years later by Liberal successor Tony Abbott.
The Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum in Canberra. Source: SBS News
Barbara Kuriger, who is leading the New Zealand delegation in Canberra said the key was taking steps to ensure emissions targets are being met.
"In New Zealand, we've just set up a climate commission so we're taking it out of the political house of parliament," the NZ Nationals MP said.
"Let's just give it to a group who can have a look at the science and go for what is the most effective."
Mr Morrison last year came under fire for causing a rift with Pacific nations at the Pacific Islands Forum.
At the time, Fiji Prime Minister’s Frank Bainimarama accused him of being “insulting and condescending” through a heavy-handed approach to negotiations, in an interview with the Guardian.
Former Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga has also condemned Australia for trying to buy the silence of Pacific Island leaders on climate change.
But Mr Morrison has touted Australia's role in the Pacific as part of his step-up strategy that has seen his government commit a record $1.4 billion in development assistance in the region in 2019-20.
Mr Kenilorea, also chair of the Solomon Islands Foreign Relations Committee, said Australia taking more action to reduce emissions would strongly demonstrate their leadership role.
“We believe that the science is clear – that there is climate change occurring and it is human-induced climate change as well,” he said.
“One common voice always helps in terms of projecting our position going forward and a united front on these global issues.”
With additional reporting from AAP