Climate Change

UN climate meeting: Pacific Islands leaders set to put heat on Australia


Germany is hosting UN climate talks this week, but the main focus will be the front line of global warning - the Pacific region.

Australia is expected to face renewed criticism when its Pacific Island neighbour Fiji chairs a key UN climate meeting from Monday. 

The Conference of the Parties 23rd meeting takes place in the German city of Bonn and will be chaired by Fiji - the first time a Pacific nation has chaired such a major meeting.

Pacific Island leaders are expected to make the most of the global spotlight on the region, which is under threat from rising sea levels.

While Australia has provided a $300 million climate change package for the Pacific, the region's leaders are demanding a moratorium on new coal mines.

Fiji-based lecturer on international politics Dr Wesley Morgan said he expects the government's support for the planned Adani coal mine in North Queensland to be a target.

"Australia will be facing a lot of heat. Pacific Island countries and Pacific Island leaders are outraged that Australia, the world's largest coal exporter, is planning to subsidise the construction of the world's largest export coal mine."

The Australia Institute executive director Ben Oquist said the planned Adani coal mine will produce more emissions a year than the Pacific Islands combined.

“I think the controversy surrounding that Adani mine is going to put extra pressure on the Australian Government as those Pacific countries want to see Australia move away from coal, not having a big neighbour in the region effectively subsidising what will be the world's biggest coal mine," he said.

Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg is leading Australia’s delegation to the Bonn meeting and will defend the mine.

“Australia’s coal is predominantly low in sulphur and low in ash and can be used for high-efficiency low-emission power plants which can reduce emissions by up to 40 per cent,” he said in a statement.

The Australian Government has also provided $6 million to assist Fiji to host a successful conference.

Activists demand closure of Germany's coal power plants by 2030
Activists demand closure of Germany's coal power plants by 2030

Drawing up the Paris rulebook

Two years on from the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rises to two degrees, this meeting will set the rules for the implementation of the pledges.

"These rules and regulations, or the architecture of the Paris Agreement, need to be agreed if it's to be credible and if we're to meet those targets," Mr Oquist said.  

Countries must also agree to the rules for a global stocktake of emissions. 

Australia insists it's on track to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

"This will see Australia halve its emissions per capita and build on our strong track record on meeting our international emissions reduction targets,” Mr Frydenberg said.

That has not reassured Pacific leaders, who point out that about two-thirds of coal from the Adani mine is set to be exported, predominantly to India, and does not count under Australia's emissions.

Adding some creative energy

On the eve of the crucial meeting, Australian singers are taking a creative approach to the issue.

The Sustainable Environment Arts Movement has formed the Climate Change Choir - a collection of 20 singing groups across the country that will perform environment-themed pieces at the same time on Sunday. 

It’s a fabulous time to be putting some energy into this space, some creative energy, and putting the message out there that we actually really care," SEAM chief executive Lisa Kendal said.

"We want our leaders to be leading, we want them to take a stand at Bonn and we want them to honour the commitments that were made in Paris and to be ambition in the actions that they commit to doing in the future."

Climate Change Choir member Susanne Provis said singing about it can be more effective than protest chants and political arguments. 

"When we sing together and our voices are heard and those voices are singing words that are about hope and the beauty of the world and keeping that, then we’re hoping that’s going to inspire other people to really think about climate change."

Poet Elizabeth Honey's lullaby All the Wild Wonders is one of the songs to be performed.

"Bill McKibbon says that we’re like white ants eating the very boat we sail on and it feels like that to me. And I wish for the kids of the world, I wish beetles and butterflies and tigers in jungles and birds in the trees and fish in the sea and all the wild wonders."

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