Asia-Pacific

Australia splits with Pacific islands to 'water down' urgent climate warning

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has exited the Pacific Islands Forum on Tuvalu defending Australia's climate record but under fire over self-interest.

Australia is concerned about saving its economy while the Pacific is fighting to save its people, Tuvalu's prime minister has declared.

Despite the assertion, Enele Sopoaga softened his tone towards Australia on Friday after earlier criticising its part in negotiations at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu.

Leaders agreed to a final communique and a statement on climate change, although a declaration by smaller island states wasn't held up.

"We stressed very strongly during our exchange, in fact, between me and Scott (Morrison), that you are concerned about saving your economy in your situation," he told reporters.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is rejecting criticism over Australia's climate approach.

"I'm concerned about saving my people in Tuvalu and likewise the leaders of other South Pacific small island countries."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he wasn't just concerned about Australia's economy but how it then impacted support for the region.

Mr Sopoaga said language during negotiations became "flary" but insisted he was "very happy" with the result.

The communique calls on G7 and G20 members to "rapidly implement their commitment to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies".

Australia's tough approach to the negotiations drew ire from some participants, but Mr Sopoaga said the Pacific did not "bow down" to its large neighbour.

The final communique reaffirms climate change as the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of people in the Pacific, but doesn't refer to a "climate crisis".

Leaders also agreed to seek to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels as set out in the Paris Agreement.

During negotiations Mr Morrison briefed the other leaders on his government's climate achievement, claiming they were surprised about Australia's emissions reductions.

"That's not a message they've been reading about out of Australia," he told reporters prior to jetting off from Tuvalu.

Mr Morrison also raised concerns over illegal fishing in the region, plastic pollution and the ocean's health.

Tuvalu's Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga addresses the Pacific Islands Forum in Funafuti.

Mr Sopoaga said Tongan leader Samuela 'Akilisi' Pohiva was reduced to tears during the talks while recounting tales of young Tuvaluans who fear losing their home from extreme weather.

The one bone of contention is a climate change statement from small island states, which calls for an immediate global ban on new coal-fired power plants and coal mines.

Immediately after negotiations ended on Thursday night Mr Sopoaga hinted Australia was the lone nation against the stronger climate stance from the small islands.

But New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern said she had not seen the statement, so could therefore not agree to it.

The statement on climate change makes replenishing the UN's Green Climate Fund an option but doesn't call for its prompt replenishment as the statement from smaller states did.

Scott Morrison and Prime Minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama.
Scott Morrison and Prime Minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama.
AAP

Mr Morrison was adamant about not supporting the Green Climate Fund, saying he would instead deal directly with the region.

The Pacific nations will take the climate change statement and communique to UN climate talks in New York this September.

Tuvalu's Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga addresses the Pacific Islands Forum in Funafuti.

Fijian prime minister Frank Bainimarama said the communique "settled for the status quo".

The forum formally ended on Friday after a meeting of dialogue partners including the US, China and Taiwan.

Acting Labor leader Richard Marles said the Australian government had a "huge credibility gap" when it came to talking to Pacific nations about climate action.

"In the Pacific, climate change is an existential issue," he said.

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