Stopping the cheques
Australia’s performance at CHOGM (Commponwealth Heads of Government Meeting) and in Warsaw (in November) will accelerate the decline of its influence in the Pacific, writes Nic Maclellan
STANDING on the podium in Warsaw this week, president Baron Waqa of Nauru wasn’t mincing his words. “Many of the countries most responsible for climate change are retreating from their moral responsibility and obligation to act,” he said. “Consequently, we are lacking the urgent ambition required to lower emissions in the short time we have to avert catastrophe.”
This year’s global climate negotiations haven’t gone well. The Alliance of Small Island States, or AOSIS, is angry that many developed nations are abandoning pledges to provide financial support for the most vulnerable islands affected by global warming. Speaking on behalf of this forty-three-member bloc, Waqa stressed the vital role of climate finance in responding to the climate emergency. “We are missing the all-embracing idea of human solidarity that underpins the concept of ‘loss and damage,’” he said, referring to the devastation to land, water supply, agriculture and infrastructure caused by delays in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the failure to fund the necessary adaptation.
Leading the retreat at Warsaw is the Australian government. In December last year, the Coalition’s shadow climate minister, Greg Hunt, said that an Abbott government would not give a “blank cheque” to cover loss and damage. Now, as federal environment minister (“climate” having been removed from the title), Hunt has refused to attend the Warsaw negotiations and is making good on his pledge to stop the cheques.
At this month’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka, the Abbott government ditched Australia’s pledge to contribute to the Green Climate Fund, an innovative new funding mechanism for dealing with the effects of climate change. In their final communique , the CHOGM leaders “recognised the importance attached to both the operationalisation and the capitalisation of the Green Climate Fund.” But a footnote recorded that “Australia and Canada had reservations about the language of paragraphs 18, 19, 20 and 21 and indicated that they could not support a Green Capital [sic] Fund at this time.”
Hunt made clear in December last year that the Coalition wouldn’t support this multilateral body. “This is not a fund which we support. We have no control over where the money goes, no control over how it’s used, no control over how much we pay and this is something which we clearly, simply, categorically reject.” At the time, international observers were astounded by the chutzpah of this statement. Australia had played a central role in the creation of the fund, with AusAID’s deputy director-general, Ewen McDonald, appointed co-chair of the Fund’s board for its first year of operation. Australian officials have played a crucial role in determining the Fund’s mandate, operations and policies.
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