Australia questioned over coal support

Many representatives of Pacific Island countries at the UN climate conference are calling for a moratorium on new coal and other fossil fuel developments.

Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg will arrive at the UN climate conference in Germany next week keen to tout Australia's leadership on land use and developing low-emission technologies.

But with significant Pacific Island representation at the conference he could find himself instead answering questions about Australia's continued support of fossil fuels.

The word that's muttered around side events at COP23 when Australia is mentioned? Adani.

Long-time climate campaigner Anote Tong, who was Kiribati president for 13 years to 2016, says the Paris agreement was a wonderful achievement but sometimes he wonders whether all countries are serious about their commitments.

"If you're going to open another coal mine then you are not transitioning, you are lying to us," he told an audience at the conference on Bonn.

Mr Tong has personally visited several banks in Australia and around the world to ask them not to finance the mega Adani mine in Queensland.

He told AAP countries like Australia may well say they're meeting their emissions reduction targets, but if they kept supplying coal to other countries they are just exporting the problem.

"If it's not fossil fuels, if it's not coal, what else are you willing to put on the table in order to meet the commitments you have made?" he told AAP.

The Climate Action Network awarded Australia its Fossil of the Day on the conference's second day, citing approval of the Adani mine and possible government assistance with its financing.

Ahead of travelling to Germany, Mr Frydenberg said Australia strongly supported Fiji's presidency of the COP23 conference and the focus it has brought to the Pacific.

"Australia has a long and proud history of working with Pacific countries to build climate resilience and reduce the impact of climate-related disasters," he said, highlighting the government's $300 million spend to help avoid and adapt to climate change in the region.

Under Fiji's presidency, there have been many events where Pacific Islanders have shared stories of how climate change is affecting them already.

The beach they played on as a child that's disappearing. The villages that have had to relocate or be flooded by rising seas. The massive devastation wreaked by more frequent storms, like 2016's cyclone Winston that killed 44 people in Fiji.

Some Fijian activists joined a Greenpeace Germany action on Friday where they helped project the faces of Pacific Islanders onto the side of a coal-fired power station near Bonn with the message "Fossil-free future".

Pacific Island Development Forum secretary general Francois Martel says there has to be a complete shift in thinking if the world is to act fast enough to substantially slow climate change.

"Coal and fossil fuels have to be literally replaced and eliminated," he said.

"We know that to reach the 1.5 degrees Celsius (limit on warming) we really need to keep the coal in the ground."

He and Mr Tong are among those calling for a moratorium on new coal developments.

The Australia Institute's research director Rod Campbell said this also just makes good economic sense because it would keep prices high for existing coal mines, giving investors and communities a more predictable future.

3 min read
Published 12 November 2017 at 3:34am
Source: AAP