NADI, Fiji (Reuters) - Australia will donate A$500 million ($339 million) to Pacific Islands for renewable energy projects and to help its neighbours prepare for the impact of climate change, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday.
The low-lying islands of the Pacific are seen as the front line of global climate change, battling rising sea levels and other climate-related crises that have forced some residents to move to higher ground.
“The Pacific is our home, which we share as a family of nations. We’re here to work with our Pacific partners to confront the potential challenges they face in the years ahead,” Morrison said in a statement before a trip to the region.
Declaring a climate emergency, Pacific Island leaders have called for stronger action by developed countries, including Australia which has so far refused to strengthen emission targets in order to protect its coal mining industry.
“I appeal to Australia to do everything possible to achieve a rapid transition from coal to energy sources that do not contribute to climate change,” Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said on Monday ahead of the Pacific Islands Forum.
Pacific Island leaders have also criticised Australia for counting emission reductions achieved prior to its 2016 pledge to reduce emissions by between 26%-28% from 2005 levels by 2030.
As a result, Australia’s ties with the region have been strained, opening the door to the China.
Already scoring success with economic aid donations, China’s support for tackling global warming has aided its drive to win allies and influence in a region home to more than one-third of nations that recognise Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a wayward province with no right to state-to-state ties.
To counter China’s economic aid to the Pacific, Australia and its Western allies have increased their support to the region.
Australia last year promised Pacific Islands up to A$3 billion in cheap loans and grants, while Morrison has also taken several trips to the region in order to foster closer ties.
Morrison will this week travel to the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu, one the world’s smallest countries - a visit Canberra hopes demonstrates Australia’s commitment to the region.
($1 = 1.4751 Australian dollars)
Reporting by Colin Packham; editing by Darren Schuettler