Pacific civil society groups are extremely disappointed Australian and New Zealand leaders will not join island neighbours at a global climate summit in New York this week.
Pacific Islands Climate Action Network (PICAN) convenor Shirley Laban said the decision by Tony Abbott and John Key not to attend the UN Climate Summit, on September 23, was ‘alarming and disheartening’.
Organised by UN chief Ban Ki Moon, the summit is intended to provide momentum for a global pact to tackle climate change, with an agreement expected to be finalised in Paris next year. More than 120 world leaders, including US president Obama and UK prime minister David Cameron, will be attending the climate meeting.
Leaders from almost all Pacific island countries will be attending, and demanding strong commitments from polluting nations. Australian prime minister Tony Abbott will also be in New York this week to attend a special UN security council meeting on terrorism. However he has ruled out attending the Climate Summit.
Ms Laban said Abbott’s decision not to attend the summit sent a strong message to island neighbours that Australia was not serious addressing global climate change.
‘A changing climate presents a clear and present danger for Pacific island countries,’ said Ms Laban. ‘If Australian and New Zealand leaders refuse to do their share to address the issue, they send a very poor signal to the global community. Pacific communities will reap the devastating consequences of their failure to act for generations to come’.
In recent times conservative governments in both Australia and New Zealand have distanced themselves from crucial international climate negotiations, and have rolled back support to help island states adapt to changes that are already understood to be unavoidable.
Pacific island countries are already among the world’s most vulnerable to natural disasters. Every year island communities face the threat of droughts, devastating floods and intense cyclones. Climate change looks set to increase the risks.
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report suggests a changing climate is likely to lead to changing rainfall patterns, ocean acidification, and coral bleaching. Coastal communities are also likely to experience stronger storm surges, increased erosion and inundation as sea levels rise, and salination is likely to compromise groundwater resources.
Samoan prime minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said Pacific island states were sounding a warning to the rest of the world.
‘Our experience as the “canaries in the coalmine” must finally be understood by the international community and acted on’, said Mr Malielegaoi.
Ms Laban echoed the call for polluting nations to take action now to curb emissions. She also said wealthy nations needed to do more to help island communities adapt to a changing climate.
‘Funding for adaptation, including from the Green Climate Fund, needs to be accessible to Pacific communities and civil society organisations, said Ms Laban. ‘Because we are at the frontline of climate change, more support must be allocated to community-based adaptation measures’.
She said a global agreement to tackle climate change should include commitments to address the irreversible damage that is likely to occur in Pacific island states.
‘We are not responsible for climate change, yet we will bear the greatest impacts of a changing climate,’ said Ms Laban. ‘Even if drastic action is taken now to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere, Pacific countries are still likely to experience significant losses, and permanent damage. The countries responsible for emitting greenhouse gases must take responsibility for the impacts of their pollution’.
The Pacific Islands Climate Action Network (PICAN) brings together civil society actors in Pacific island countries advocating for climate justice. PICAN is a regional network of the global Climate Action Network (CAN-International).
Pacific Islands Climate Action Network (PICAN)
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Shirley Laban is available for interview
Neighbours must do their share: Pacific climate network