The Politics    Friday, July 8, 2022

A diplomatic climate

By Rachel Withers

Image of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, left, speaking during a joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Sydney, July 8, 2022. Image © Rick Rycroft / AP Photo

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, left, speaks during a joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Sydney, July 8, 2022. Image © Rick Rycroft / AP Photo

Albanese talks up Australia’s climate reset, but Pacific nations are not quite buying it

The Albanese government is continuing with its diplomatic resets, with Foreign Minister Penny Wong today sitting down with her Chinese counterpart on the sidelines of the G20, in the first such meeting since 2019. Speaking to RN Breakfast, Deputy PM Richard Marles said that Wong would go in with a more “sober, professional” tone than the Coalition. “We’re not going to do the chest-beating that we saw from the former government,” Marles said. Opposition foreign affairs spokesperson Simon Birmingham has welcomed the dialogue, but queried why Beijing was suddenly so willing to talk. (Might have something to do with the chest-beating, Simon.) Meanwhile, Timor-Leste president José Ramos-Horta has praised the decision to end the prosecution of Bernard Collaery, as has the country’s first president, Xanana Gusmão, who has written to the PM to express his thanks. But the most explicit reset of the day was with New Zealand. Anthony Albanese and Jacinda Ardern showered each other with praise following a meeting covering climate, China and their role in the Pacific. The pair were adamant that they were doing more when it came to climate, with plans to work together on EV policy. But will that be enough for our Pacific neighbours, who are today asking Australia go much further?

The renewed calls come ahead of next week’s Pacific Islands Forum, which analysts say will be the first real test of Australia’s new climate commitment. Pacific Elders Voice, the group of former Pacific leaders, wants urgent action to curb global warming, including a commitment to no new coal or gas projects, with the former PM of Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga, labelling Labor’s 2030 emissions-reduction target “far from being adequate”. The joint statement is contained within a report from the Climate Council, which demands a 75 per cent cut by 2030. Lead author Wesley Morgan argues that the government needs to go “harder and faster” if it wants to position itself as the key security partner for the Pacific.

Albanese had plenty of positive things to say about his government’s climate commitment, and its support for the Pacific, following today’s meeting with Ardern. Ongoing bilateral meetings between the two nations will now include their climate ministers, with each leader noting the significance of elevating climate in the dialogue. Asked about calls from the Pacific nations to take stronger action, and whether further cuts to emissions were on the cards, Albanese argued that Australia’s changed position had been welcomed around the world, adding that he believed it would be “very much welcomed in the Pacific” too, reeling off a range of investments.

Indeed, Pacific leaders do welcome the government’s change in policy (although just about anything would be better than what the previous government was offering). But they are also making it clear that these changes do not go far enough. “They need to do much more, they need to do not just these minimal targets, but move towards meeting more like 75 per cent targets to catch up with the rest of the world,” Sopoaga said. Words are one thing, he added, but Australia needs to show that is it serious about action if it wants to “garner the trust of Pacific Island countries”.

Australia’s position on climate change is only becoming more significant in our interrelated diplomatic relationships, whether with China, New Zealand or Timor-Leste. The world, as Albanese noted today, has breathed a sigh of relief at our renewed interest in the matter. But it’s increasingly clear that the bare minimum won’t fly at the forum in Fiji next week. The Labor government has so far been able to swat away calls from the Greens to go harder and faster on emissions, having decided that it doesn’t have to negotiate with the minor party. But our Pacific neighbours are now making almost exactly the same demands. It’s not just the smaller islands of the Pacific that have much to fear from the effects of climate change, noted Fijian PM Frank Bainimarama earlier this week, as he expressed his condolences over the NSW floods. The entire Pacific is in crisis. Let’s hope the government can embrace Bainimarama’s open invitation to figure out what to do about it.

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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