Australian PM heads for climate clash with Pacific island leaders

Tony Abbott will come under fire for coal-friendly policies at Port Moresby meeting, as neighbours back mining moratorium

Tony Abbott, Australia's prime minister (Pic: World Economic Forum/Flickr)

Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister (Pic: World Economic Forum/Flickr)

By Megan Darby

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott is headed for a confrontation with Pacific island leaders over his stance on coal and climate change this week.

At a meeting in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, six small island states have backed calls for a global moratorium on new coal mines.

Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Republic of the Marshall Islands and Tonga urged aggressive action to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

“We are deeply concerned that the future of our nations is threatened by the impacts of climate change,” they wrote.

All nations, “particularly the advanced economies in our region and beyond”, need to “rise to the challenge of climate change… We cannot afford to lock in any further fossil fuel emissions.”

Abbott is due to fly in on Wednesday, his main concern being to unblock a resettlement plan for refugees detained at Manus Island.

But he will face pressure to get more serious about climate change, ahead of this December’s Paris summit to strike a global deal.

Analysis: Why coal miners need a moratorium (but can’t ask)

His enthusiasm for expanding Australia’s coal sector, coupled with a national climate plan widely viewed as “weak”, conflict with his neighbours’ interests.

New Zealand’s emissions target, branded “a slap in the face” to Pacific islands by Oxfam, will also come under scrutiny.

In a report released alongside the meeting, Oxfam said this year’s Cyclone Pam should serve as a “wake-up call” to the two developed nations.

The storm devastated Vanuatu and caused widespread damage in Kiribati and Tuvalu. Climate change is set to increase the intensity of tropical cyclones and rising sea levels raise the risk of coastal flooding.

This threatens the very existence of low-lying island states, some of which are seeking to show leadership despite their negligible contribution to global emissions.

The Marshall Islands committed to slash its emissions 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, in its contribution to a global deal.

EU climate chief Miguel Arias Canete is set to attend the summit and sign agreements with small islands to help them access clean energy.

Report: Australia ‘has world’s biggest climate policy gap’

Australia and New Zealand’s pledges to the UN “fall well short of a fair contribution,” Oxfam added in their report.

Canberra promised to reduce emissions 26% from 2005 to 2030, while Wellington offered a 30% cut over the same period.

Australian Greens joined in the attacks on the country’s prime minister.

“Tony Abbott should feel deeply ashamed when he is at the Pacific Islands Forum this week,” said the party’s Senator Larissa Waters.

“Far from the moratorium on new coal mines that low-lying Pacific nations are calling for, Tony Abbott is trying to re-write environment law to suit mining companies and is attacking clean energy.

“Our Pacific neighbours must shake their heads in disbelief and despair at the Minerals Council’s embarrassing assertion that ‘coal is amazing’ and Tony Abbott’s proclamation that ‘coal is good for humanity’.”

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