Thursday, September 29, 2022

Australia has little credibility left in the Pacific

comment, opinion,

The security agreement of the Solomon Islands with China is another concern for Australia, which is rapidly losing its influence in the Pacific. Unless it demonstrates clear strategic leadership, Australia can expect to see other pieces of its regional security infrastructure crumbling. Watson Colony, the provincial premier in the Solomon Islands, did not mince his words when he mentioned an urgent need for funds to relocate to Taro, the first confirmed Pacific community that must move because of the climate threat. He said: “It doesn’t matter where the money comes from. Whether it comes from God or the devil, we’ll take it.” The frustration is real. Many small island nations in the Pacific are facing an existential threat – sea level rise due to climate change. This danger is clearly visible today. This situation is a major strategic concern for Australia as our regional security depends on tight ties with our close neighbours. Many international players are likely to join in supporting these small nations as they struggle for their survival. Australia must lead this effort to ensure regional stability and security. For decades Australia has spent billions of dollars on aid and development in the Pacific. Pacific island nations have always been a high priority for aid, but investment has been pretty bumpy. The Australian government announced the Pacific Step Up in 2016 in the face of Chinese activity in the region. This announcement was regularly referred to as helping our “Pacific family”. Step Up included increased funding to help Pacific countries address the challenges of climate change. Unfortunately, Australia is not showing that it is taking its climate change challenges seriously. We have not made clear transition plans to ensure that we reach net zero emissions by 2050. The latest federal budget reduces rather than increases funding for climate change initiatives. Instead of stopping, coal and gas exports are set to increase. This contradiction causes our support to be viewed as fraudulent, even though significant amounts of money are being sent to the Pacific to combat the effects of climate change. We have lost opportunities for decades of meaningful, planned action to reduce carbon emissions and transform ourselves. When we try to use our position of middle power to help developing countries in our region cope with the effects of climate change and the resulting sea level rise, we lose credibility. The recently released draft of the Sixth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a chilling but scientific cut on what the world is facing from climate change. With respect to small island nations such as the Pacific, the report concludes: “Climate change is contributing to humanitarian crises where climate threats interact with high vulnerability (high confidence). Climate and weather extremes are increasingly common in all regions.” Displacements are increasing (high confidence), with smaller island states disproportionately affected (high confidence).” Read more: Global temperature and sea level rise could be stabilized if immediate action is taken to reduce carbon emissions. It should be an important element of our defense strategy. Australia needs a true family in the Pacific. Funding in the Pacific countries focused on mitigation measures, while dramatically reducing their own emissions, will restore our credibility in our region and provide much-needed protection for all. Our Pacific neighbor has been taking on Australia’s conflicting position for many years. It is no surprise that these close neighbors are looking elsewhere for solutions to their problems. Australia’s national strategies are wrong. Many Pacific island nations are literally disappearing under the sea. As sea levels rise, villages are being swept away and populations are being forced to relocate. This is creating tension and competition over the limited land available for resettlement of communities. Concurrently, Australia is trying to increase the amount of fossil fuels we export. Countries that burn these fossil fuels fuel the climate crisis that is now engulfing our friends and neighbours. Our security strategy must be aligned with all other national strategies. Concerns about the effects of climate change on Australia’s regional security have generally focused on how many “climate refugees” may seek new homes here in Australia as the land is submerged in the sea. Australia’s extremely strict immigration policies will be tested to the limit as members of our Pacific family look for a new life here. The number of refugees is likely to be in the thousands. These people do not want to be forced to relocate to Australia or anywhere else. They want to continue to lead their lives where they are now. Large-scale population relocation will pose serious security challenges for Australia. If China can build islands for its military in the South China Sea, we can “build islands” for our families in the Pacific. If we don’t act, China will. Pacific countries are victims of unabated carbon emissions from developed countries. They will never see Australia as a part of their family unless we change and help them. In the interim they will accept funding from almost any donor, even if the donors are major greenhouse gas emitters and cause the threat they are trying to fight. They don’t have to be climate refugees. Australia must change quickly or face very serious threats to our security. We can only become a strategic leader in the Pacific family if we set an example in tackling the drivers of climate change by urgently fixing our addiction to extracting fossil fuels.



Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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