Exactly one year ago, as then prime minister of the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, I hosted the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting in our capital Funafuti. The theme of the meeting was "Securing our future in the Pacific", and, like at many other events, Australia's Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, referred to Australia and the Pacific as "family".
In the months that followed, we watched in horror as the Black Summer bushfires tore through Australia, destroying land, homes and businesses, demonstrating how devastating climate change can be. In the spirit of family, Papua New Guinea and Fiji provided military assistance to Australia, and many Pacific neighbours donated to help those affected, including Tuvalu with our donation of $A300,000.
As Prime Minister Morrison himself noted at the time, the Pacific island family stepped up to help Australia with the few resources we have.
We now need Australia to step up and help with the resources it has in order to fulfil its climate commitments to its Pacific family.
Climate change is the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific. Australia has officially acknowledged this time and again, yet it has refused to take the necessary steps to reduce its emissions to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, in line with the goal of the Paris Agreement.
Shortly after Morrison came into power, he promised that Australia would "work more closely than ever with the Pacific islands on those issues of greatest concern to them - including climate solutions and disaster resilience" and would keep its international commitments made in these areas. This must include fulfilling the promise he made at the 2019 Pacific Islands Forum to his fellow Pacific leaders - including myself - to develop a long-term strategy by 2020 for reducing Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.
We are yet to see this strategy. Instead we have seen a move to ramp up Australia's fossil fuel industry. As Australia and most countries prepare their post-COVID-19 economic recovery, it is crucial that we don't dig ourselves out of one crisis only to exacerbate another.
My heart goes out to all Australians who are suffering as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. I pray for a resolution, and find some solace in the knowledge top scientists across the globe are working to develop a vaccine.
Tragically, the climate crisis faced by small Pacific nations cannot be addressed with a vaccine.
Unlike Tuvalu and other small Pacific nations, Australia is a G20 economy and in the top 20 polluters globally. As such, it can do more to fight climate change than all small Pacific nations combined. In addition, as the third-largest supplier of fossil fuels in the world, Australia can directly influence how other major economies use energy. That is why so many in the Pacific look to Australia for solidarity and leadership on climate change. Unfortunately, this has been lacking.
For example, Australia has proposed to use surplus carbon credits from the Kyoto Protocol to meet its 2030 emissions reduction target under the Paris Agreement. According to the Australian government's most recent figures, this equates to 430 million tonnes of credits, which is almost 10 times the annual fossil fuel emissions of every other Pacific Islands Forum member combined. If Australia uses these controversial credits, it will not have to reduce any emissions over the next 10 years to meet its Paris Agreement target. As many leaders have asserted, this is not in the spirit of the Paris Agreement.
To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, Australia must also reach net-zero emissions by 2050, if not sooner, but it has not yet committed to this target. Given that every Australian state and territory has now adopted this target (and the city of Canberra has gone a step further with a 2045 goal), there is no reason why the federal government cannot do the same.
Amid geopolitical competition for the region, Morrison has stressed the importance of the Pacific to Australia's national security. Australia now needs to take concrete action to secure the future of the Pacific islands in return.
- Enele Sopoaga is the MP for Nukufetau in the Parliament of Tuvalu and was prime minister of Tuvalu from 2013 to 2019.