Minister tight-lipped on claims Australia watered down climate change declaration

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne is tight-lipped on claims Australia watered down language on climate change in an official Pacific Islands Forum document.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne has defended "robust" discussions with Pacific Island leaders about the security threat posed by climate change.

Some leaders claim Australia watered down language on climate change in an official Pacific Islands Forum joint statement this week.

Australian Foreign Minister Marice Payne, left, and New Zealand during the Pacific Island Forum.
Australian Foreign Minister Marice Payne, left, and New Zealand during the Pacific Island Forum.

Senator Payne, who represented Australia at the annual conference in Nauru, likened discussions on the communique to a conversation between family members.

"I am not going to discuss the internal workings of a private leaders retreat of course, but I think it is important to note that the communique and the Boe Declaration are produced by agreement," ," she told ABC radio on Friday.

"We are always having robust and frank discussions with our colleagues and we talked about a whole range of issues.

"But the focus that is placed on the security aspects of this issue in the Pacific was first and foremost in our minds."

Leaders capped off the 18-nation Pacific Islands Forum on Wednesday by signing a "Boe Declaration", expanding on security themes to include the environment, cybercrime and transnational crime.

As was widely expected, the forum communique said climate change presented "the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and well-being of Pacific people" and underscored the need for "immediate urgent action".

Leaders also called on large emitters to fully implement national emissions mitigation targets and for the United States to return to the Paris Agreement on tackling climate change.

However, Tuvalu's prime minister Enele Sopoaga is reported to have later told media a country whose name started with A - Australia being the only candidate - had raised concerns about some of the language around climate change during talks.

Comment has been requested from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade about whether Australia objected to parts of the declaration.

The focus on climate change recognises concerns that have been the key priority for Pacific leaders at the annual meeting.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the Boe Declaration the most significant statement on the region's security in a generation.

"Modern-day regional security challenges include climate change, cybercrime and transnational crime," she said.

New Zealand's foreign ministry, in a statement, said it had supported all climate change clauses in the declaration.

The Australian Conservation Foundation said the signing of the declaration was an important recognition of the issue by the new Morrison government but needed to be followed up with policy.

"This international commitment by our nation must be matched by domestic action," ACF chief Kelly O'Shanassy said.

"Australia's climate pollution is rising, and we have observed another collapse of domestic policy to cut emissions from electricity generation."

Ahead of the forum, Australian ministers tried to ease concerns among Pacific leaders about its seriousness on climate change, saying the government was still committed to its reduction targets despite the recent collapse of its planned emissions legislation.

"There's no doubt the Pacific islands would have a dim view of Australia reducing its commitment to climate change measures - reducing our emissions footprint," Defence Minister Christopher Pyne told Sky News.

"But we have no plans to do so."

As part of the broader security declaration on Wednesday, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne also announced the establishment of a Pacific centre to assist authorities in collating information to combat illegal fishing, people smuggling and narcotics trafficking.

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