Jacinda Ardern has declared that “Australia has to answer to the Pacific” on climate change, saying that New Zealand is doing what it can to limit global emissions to 1.5C and expects other nations to do the same.
However, the New Zealand prime minister stopped short of saying New Zealand would throw its weight behind the smaller Pacific nations who are urging Australia to commit to a rapid transition from a coal-based economy at this year’s Pacific Islands Forum.
“Issues around Australia’s domestic policy are issues for Australia,” she said, when asked about Australia’s coal use.
Ardern said she had “every expectation that this Pacific Islands Forum will be dominated by climate change” and reiterated her government’s commitment to reducing emissions, citing the goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2035, which is currently working its way through New Zealand parliament.
“Like our Pacific Island neighbours, we will continue that international call, we will continue to say that New Zealand will do our bit and we have an expectation that everyone else will as well; we have to.”
Pacific leaders have this week been urging Australia to commit to urgent action to reduce emissions.
On Monday, the Fijian prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, appealed to Australia in a speech “to do everything possible to achieve a rapid transition from coal to energy sources that do not contribute to climate change”, saying it posed an “existential threat” to Pacific islands.
Ardern refused to comment on reports that Australia has been attempting to water down the language on climate change in the communique that is due to come out of the PIF on Thursday after the leaders’ retreat.
Climate Home News reported that an annotated draft of the Pacific Islands Forum declaration showed Australia trying to suppress references to the climate “crisis”, 1.5C, carbon neutrality, a ban on new coal plants and phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies.
Greenpeace said that Australia’s plans to water down the communique could see it become “the pariah of the Pacific”.
“How does Morrison reconcile calling the Pacific family while he persistently ignores our demands for Australia to reduce its emissions?” said Joseph Moeono-Kolio, Greenpeace’s head of Pacific.
Scott Morrison, who touched down in Funafuti about an hour after Ardern, set a positive tone in his first public speaking appearance, at the launch of a Pacific skills portal, at which he did not take questions.
Morrison said the Pacific Islands Forum was a “family gathering” and that “when families come together they talk about the stuff that matters, that’s most important to them. Over the next few days that’s exactly what we’ll do.”
His only reference to what are anticipated to be heated debates on the climate crisis was to say the leaders would be “talking about the future of our environment” as part of their discussions, as well as the future of our economies and jobs.
Morrison cited his government’s renewed focus on the region, the so-called Pacific Step-Up, saying, as he has several times before: “If you’re going to step up you have to show up, and Australia’s going to show up, we’re not just going to show up here, we’re going to show up for the hard conversations, the good conversations, the family conversations that we have, that’s very much the spirit with which we’re engaging.”