August 13, 2019 / 10:30 PM / 9 days ago

New Zealand PM calls on Australia to answer Pacific island climate change demands

FUNAFUTI, Tuvalu (Reuters) - New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern challenged Australia on Wednesday to answer South Pacific island demands for more action on climate change, saying her country was doing its part to limit global greenhouse emissions.

FILE PHOTO: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a joint press conference at the Istana Presidential Palace in Singapore, 07 June 2019. Wallace Woon/Pool via REUTERS

Pacific island leaders meeting in Tuvalu this week have called on Australia to take tougher action on climate change, citing its heavy reliance on coal-fired power.

“Australia has to answer to the Pacific but that is a matter for them,” Ardern said in Tuvalu. “We have said that we don’t believe we can sustain more than 1.5 degrees (Celsius) of warming...that is where we have sided.”

“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.”

The low-lying Pacific islands are on the frontline of global climate change, battling rising sea levels and related crises that have forced some residents to move to higher ground.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrived in Tuvalu on Wednesday as officials at the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) started negotiating a communique that many leaders said should include limiting global temperature rises to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels and an immediate end to coal mining.

However, Australia will not agree to a communique demanding tougher climate goals, Australia’s Minister for the Pacific Alex Hawke said.

“Australia’s position on coal is we won’t have a communique where coal and coal-fired generation, or phasing it out now, is a realistic proposition,” Hawke said.

Morrison is a firm supporter of the country’s coal industry. In June, Australia approved a major new coal mine in the state of Queensland by India’s Adani Enterprises that is expected to produce 8-10 million tonnes of thermal coal each year.

In 2016 Australia signed the Paris Agreement that commits signatories to policies that limit temperature increases to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. Morrison has said Australia will meet its climate change commitments.

Before heading to Tuvalu, Morrison announced that Australia will give A$500 million ($339 million) to Pacific island nations for renewable energy projects and help them prepare for the impact of climate change.

However, island leaders rebuked Morrison’s offer saying giving cash to countries battling climate change was not enough.

Unwilling to budge on the issue at the PIF, Australia is now looking for allies to prevent agreement among the other 17 Forum members, and Morrison acknowledged tension among the group.

When questioned about the issue in Tuvalu, he said: “We are going to show for the hard conversations, the good conversations and the family conversations”.

Ardern said she hoped a final communique would be a consensus of all 18 members. “It would be all the more powerful if this is issued as a whole,” she told reporters.

Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry

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