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Pacific allies condemn Australia over its inaction on the climate crisis

Rich Bowden

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Leaders discuss the climate emergency at the Pacific Islands Forum

The Australian delegation’s success at watering down the final communique on climate change at the Pacific Islands Forum last week has united Pacific nations against the regional power. Pacific leaders stated Australia’s pro-fossil fuel strategy at the forum, hosted by the island state of Tuvalu, will have negative consequences for the region’s future.

‘Fierce’ discussions about the climate crisis continue

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama attacked the Australian strategy in a tweet following the summit: “We came together in a nation [Tuvalu] that risks disappearing to the seas, but unfortunately, we settled for the status quo in our communique. Watered-down climate language has real consequences — like water-logged homes, schools, communities, and ancestral burial grounds.”

Bainimarama described Australia’s behavior towards the other Pacific nations as “very insulting and condescending.”

The Fiji PM was not alone in criticizing Australia’s negotiation strategy, which appeared to be to remove any reference to fossil fuels in the final communique. Vanuatu’s foreign minister Ralph Regenvanu, who was part of the negotiating process, described the discussion as “frank, fierce at times, [with] very strong positions being held.” He added that negotiations nearly broke down due to Australia’s intransigence.

Australia’s refusal to condemn fossil fuels as a major contributor to the climate emergency appeared to be the defining factor in the rancorous debate, according to sources.

Saving nations or the economy?

Speaking at a joint press conference with Australian PM Scott Morrison following the week-long forum, host Tuvalu’s PM Enele Sopoaga, said he told Morrison: “You are concerned about saving your economies, your situation in Australia, I’m concerned about saving my people in Tuvalu and likewise other leaders of small island countries,” he said.

“… we were exchanging flarey language, not swearing, but of course you know, expressing the concerns of leaders and I was very happy with the exchange of ideas, it was frank. Prime Minister Morrison, of course, stated his position and I stated my position and [that of] other leaders: we need to save these people,” he added.

However, the rancor was not limited to the forum. New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who said Australia needed to “answer to the Pacific” was on the receiving end of a vicious attack by Australian shock jock Alan Jones who suggested PM Morrison put a sock down the throat of the NZ PM. The derogatory comments drew criticism from Morrison.

Doors open to other regional powers

The Australian government’s lack of empathy for its Pacific neighbors, many of whom face an existential threat from rising sea levels caused by climate change, has opened the door for other countries to build influence in the region, according to commentators. The most active alternative is China which has offered Pacific nations concessional loans to help mitigate the effects of climate change.

Last week’s Pacific Islands Forum is being seen by observers as an opportunity lost by Australia to build confidence amongst its Pacific allies.

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Australia Gets Flamed For Neglecting The Climate Emergency In The Pacific

Rich Bowden

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Australia gets flamed for its climate inaction

Former Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga has re-opened the controversy over Australia’s high-handed approach at this year’s Pacific Islands Forum. Australia has been accused of trying to silence Pacific leaders, like Sopoaga, who are demanding it to do more to combat climate change.

Tuvalu hosted the Pacific Islands Forum in August. 

At the forum, Australia pressured Sopoaga among other pro-climate action leaders from the Pacific, to accept a watered-down communique. Many leaders believe it would do little to combat the climate emergency in the Pacific.

Australia not tackling the Pacific’s unique climate challenges

Sopoaga told Australia’s SBS News he thought hosting the PIF forum in Tuvalu would highlight the challenges facing smaller Pacific nations. He said he sought to show countries like Australia the existential threat climate change poses to low-lying countries like Tuvalu.

However, he regretted that support was not forthcoming. Further, he didn’t like that Pacific leaders who spoke out on climate change had the chance to accept hush money.

“Putting this money on the table … and then expecting Pacific Island countries like Tuvalu to say ‘OK, we’ll stop talking about climate change’ … is completely irresponsible,” he added.

Sopoaga said action was needed at domestic level in countries such as Australia to have any effect.

“Any amount of money that is coming with the Step-Up [Pacific aid program] cannot be seen as an excuse for no action at a domestic level to cut down on greenhouse emissions.”

Climate change poses an existential threat to Tuvalu

Tuvalu, like a number of low-lying Pacific micro-nations, is under threat from climate change. The sea has almost claimed two of the nine islands. And with the highest point only 4.6 meters above sea level, locals fear they will one day be completely swamped. 

Home to just 11,000 people and an average of just 6.6 feet above sea level, Tuvalu is in danger. In fact, its people are already making plans to evacuate should sea levels rise further.

Sopoaga has previously rejected offers to relocate the people, saying it won’t make a significant difference.

“Moving outside of Tuvalu will not solve any climate change issues,” Sopoaga says. He adds, “If you put these people in the middle of industrialized countries it will simply boost their consumptions and increase greenhouse gas emissions,” as he told The Guardian in May. 

Sopoaga’s term as Tuvalu PM came to an end last month after losing a vote in the country’s parliament. The expectation is that his successor, Kausea Natano, will continue the call to action from the world on climate change.

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Brexit Is Overshadowing Climate Activism

Haider Sarwar

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Brexit

Due to the ongoing Brexit crisis in the United Kingdom, discussions regarding climate change legislation has been postponed. The European Union meets four times a year in Brussels, Belgium, and this past week the British Parliament asked for yet another extension on formulating a plan to decarbonize by 2050.

The 2050 Plan

In November 2018, the EU proposed to have its total carbon emissions reach a net-zero by 2050. This was a move unique to the EU, and it sought to motivate other countries such as the US and Brazil to follow its footsteps. Over half the members of the EU, including the UK, have signed onto this plan.

Critics have deemed this plan as ambitious and near impossible. Moreover, there is a lot of pressure on European governments from large industries. Still, there is hope for the EU to reach this goal as many of the members are adamant about decarbonizing all of Europe. The biggest obstacle to this plan, however, is the countries’ internal affairs. The prime example of this is the UK’s notorious Brexit plan.

Brexit’s Prolonged Existence

In June 2016, a referendum on whether to leave the European Union was held in the UK. Then, 51.6% of people voted to leave. Ever since, deals illustrating better ways for the UK to leave the EU have been proposed. Both the EU and the UK have shared and torn apart these deals. Today, the disagreements persist with a very obscure future. 

It is partly because of this ongoing issue that the EU was unable to present a proper plan for decarbonization at the UN climate summit last month. The aforementioned meeting in Brussels also illustrated that the UK won’t adopt the decarbonization plan. Many EU officials have expressed annoyance towards the UK for this reason. Climate activist Greta Thunberg further argued that if politicians and governments were serious about tackling climate change, they would not spend their time “talking about taxes and Brexit.”

The adoption of the 2050 plan from the UK is being pushed to take place in 2020. The EU has little interest in refusing the UK of an extension, too. This is because a chaotic no-deal scenario would be initiated by the EU, which would be less than advantageous. 

Internal issues such as Brexit have been an obstacle to the EU’s proposed climate action for years, now. It is essential for Great Britain to pull itself out of the ongoing issue to create a plan for the future.

Will The UK Set Aside Politics To Focus On Climate Change?

Many activists wish to see countries such as the UK set aside their politics to focus on more important issues like climate change. It is unclear how long it will take for the UK and the EU to finally reach an agreement about Brexit, but there is hope that this extension will be the last one.

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Congress Unveils First Bill To Address Climate Refugee Crisis

Ari Kelo

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Climate refugee

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a new bill to protect climate refugees.

The Climate Displaced Persons Act, written by Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), would create a new federal program specifically for refugees displaced by climate change. If enacted into law, the U.S. would take in at least 50,000 climate refugees each year, beginning in 2020.

Although long overdue, backlash from both President Trump and the Republican-led Senate may stall any attempts to turn this bill into law. Regardless, this bill provides an important blueprint for future policies on climate-related migration.

And notably, this bill is the first of its kind to address the growing number of migrants displaced by climate change.

What is the Climate Displaced Persons Act?

Written in reaction to the rising number of people displaced by climate-related catastrophes, this bill would create an action plan on how the U.S. can help.

Since 2009, a climate-related disaster has displaced about one person every second. This rate accounts for extreme weather events, famine, drought, and rising sea levels, among other climate emergencies.

Overwhelmingly, 22.5 million people have been displaced due to climate change in the past decade. And the UN speculates that number could rise to 200 million forcibly displaced people by 2050.

Accordingly, this bill has two major aims. It intends to “establish a Global Climate Change Resilience Strategy and authorize the admission of climate-displaced persons,” according to its first draft.

In particular, the bill entails the U.S. taking on more responsibility in handling the global crisis.

It would create a humanitarian program separate from the U.S. refugee admissions program, specifically for those affected by climate change. The new program would guarantee the same benefits for climate refugees.

The legislation would also task the Secretary of State with devising a Global Climate Change Resilience Strategy. This is turn will create a Coordinator of Climate Resilience position within the State Department.

If made law, the bill will also provide a minimum of 50,000 climate migrants resettlement opportunities in the U.S. each year.

New legislation for climate refugees

To Rep. Velázquez, immigration policy must acknowledge the role of climate change.

“If we are going to meaningfully discuss comprehensive climate equity and climate justice, we must inject security assistance and resettlement opportunities for climate-displaced persons into our conversations,” she said in a press release.

So far, the U.S. has failed in this cause. Just last month, President Trump reduced the maximum refugee cap to 18,000 — a new low. And with his administration tightening up on immigration of all kinds, it’s unlikely he’ll loosen up on climate-related migration, to say the least.

But President Trump’s refusal to support climate science or immigration hasn’t dissuaded Rep. Velázquez.

“Despite this Administration’s efforts to strip the world’s most vulnerable populations of refuge, America will continue to stand tall as a safe haven for immigrants,” she insisted.

After its introduction on Wednesday, the House referred the bill to the Committee on Foreign Affairs. The Committees on the Judiciary and Energy and Commerce will also review the bill before the House continues its deliberation.

Democrat Edward Markey, a key supporter of the Green New Deal, has introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

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