Poor nations castigate Australia for abandoning global climate fund
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Poor nations castigate Australia for abandoning global climate fund

Developing nations say a Morrison government snub of the world's biggest climate change fund hampers efforts to cut global carbon pollution and erodes Australia's international reputation.

But the government claims the fund was not operating well and says it is working directly with Pacific neighbours to help them cope with changing weather.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Australia will cease payments to the United Nations-backed Green Climate Fund, a mechanism under the Paris treaty to help poor nations cut emissions and respond to extreme weather and rising seas.

Australia's high per-capita emissions and coal dependence mean it was expected to be a generous benefactor. However, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson has pressured the government to abandon the fund and it is unpopular with conservative Coalition MPs, including Tony Abbott.

Low-lying countries such as Kiribati are threatened by climate change.

Low-lying countries such as Kiribati are threatened by climate change. Credit:New York Times

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Australia contributed $200 million in the first funding round and took a leadership role in 2016 when it co-chaired the fund.

But in a radio interview last month Mr Morrison, when asked if Australia would be bound to its climate targets under the Paris agreement, said: "No, we won't … nor are we bound to go and tip money into that big climate fund. We're not going to do that either. I'm not going to spend money on global climate conferences and all that nonsense."

Fund board member Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, of the Democratic Republic of Congo, said Australia's stance was "beyond frustrating", particularly in the wake of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that this month warned of devastating planetary damage without radical action.

"This backtracking from [the] previous commitment by Australia is disappointing," he told Fairfax Media.

"Australia is the world's biggest coal exporter ... it has a major responsibility to provide financial support for developing countries to adapt to and mitigate climate change."

Mr Mpanu-Mpanu suggested abandoning the fund was in contravention of the Paris accord and said commitments by developing nations to lower emissions under the treaty relied on financial support from nations such as Australia.

Parties to the Paris deal will meet in Poland in December to finalise the rules of the treaty and "this decision by Australia will cast a shadow on the process of reaching an agreement", he said.

The fund's board last week approved $1 billion for projects in developing countries. They include a geothermal project in Indonesia and measures to protect water supplies in the Pacific nation of Kiribati. The board also agreed to seek further financial contributions to replenish the dwindling fund.

Fairfax Media understands Australia sent just one official to the meeting in Bahrain, down from the four officials who attended a meeting in February – a clear sign of its declining engagement.

Australian official Ewen McDonald co-chaired the fund in 2016 with South Africa's Zaheer Fakir. Mr Fakir also slammed Australia's decision to withhold money.

"It is a concern not only for the [fund] but for the broader climate agenda and the potential ambitious action that is required in mitigation and adaptation," he said.

Former Kirbati president Anote Tong.

Former Kirbati president Anote Tong. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The decision hampered the fund's ability to achieve "paradigm shifts to low emission and climate resilient development pathways", he said.

Former Kiribati president Anote Tong – who was last week allegedly accused by Environment Minister Melissa Price of money-grabbing for climate projects – suggested Australia's attitude to the fund was immoral.

"I think we are coming to the stage where some countries don't care what their reputation in the international arena is. It seems [Australia] is heading in that direction," Mr Tong told Fairfax Media.

"Worrying about [the plight of poor nations] requires a certain moral standard and I don't know ... if they believe they have any obligation."

The condemnation from the developing world further cements Australia's position as a global outlier on climate action after the government indicated it would not ramp up emissions reduction efforts under the Paris treaty and rejected the IPCC's call for a coal phase-out by 2050.

Developed countries originally pledged $US10 billion to the fund but it was left short after US President Donald Trump withheld $US2 billion of the $US3 billion his nation promised.

The fund has been criticised for a lack of transparency, delaying important decisions and approving or considering controversial projects. The last meeting in July ended in division, however last week's meeting was hailed as a success and the fund continues to have broad international support.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australia did not plan to provide further money to the fund because "it is our assessment that there are significant challenges with the [its] governance and operational model which are impacting its effectiveness".

Australia was meeting its Paris commitment to provide climate finance, including to Pacific nations, and had allocated $1 billion over five years through the foreign aid program.

Nicole Hasham is environment and energy correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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