It takes 1.5 to tango

The Pacific Islands Forum has once again demonstrated that it cannot represent the interests of both the developing and the developed world. The climate change ‘commitment’ in final PIF communiqué was watered down (sorry) from supporting a limit of 1.5 degrees average global temperature rise to ‘1.5 or 2’ degrees.

If there were any lingering doubts about whose Forum this really is, they’ve now been put to rest. It’s time the real island states in the Forum either send Australia and New Zealand packing or find another grouping that is willing at least to allow them their own voice.

This is no longer a matter of principle; it’s a matter of survival.

Our front page yesterday featured a story about a two year-old Tannese girl who died, in part because of the after-effects of cyclone Pam and the ongoing El Nino-induced drought. She and her fellow villagers were reduced to eating Nipatem, a local vine. It grows as a weed in gardens, but when boiled it is sweet to chew. It’s of very limited nutritive value; the fibre has to be chewed, then spit out, somewhat like sugarcane.

Students and staff at Tongoa’s Nambangasale School have no choice now but to walk all the way down to the seashore every day to wash. There’s only barely enough water to drink. Nearby Tongariki is even worse off. It has no streams or rivers. The water tank at Craig Cove is dry.

Private charities like WITA Aid are doing what they can to mitigate water shortages in the Shepherds group. And while CARE, Save the Children, UNICEF, Oxfam and others do their best to address both safe access to water & sanitation and food security, they are ultimately hamstrung when privileged nations refuse the play their part.

In the absence of global action, all they can do is offer comfort to a dying planet. Read more “It takes 1.5 to tango”

With friends like this…

While Tony Abbott was boasting about his story-telling capabilities as he entered the Leaders’ retreat at the Pacific Islands Forum, his cabinet were busy drumming up derision with jokes about climate change. Classy.

The ABC and several other news agencies have reported Mr Dutton’s soon-to-be-infamous quip that “time doesn’t mean anything when you’re about to have water lapping at your door.”

The Liberal government’s blasé, even callous indifference to the plight of their nearest neighbours is enough to make even Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s sulk look mature and considered.

To add injury to insult, Fairfax Media obtained leaked drafts of the Leaders’ statement, traditionally circulated once the conclave is complete, showing that a proposed goal of limiting average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees was struck from the document.

Kiribati President Anote Tong has said that anything less than this constitutes a betrayal of small island states.

Earlier on, Mr Tong raised the possibility that smaller states might leave the Forum if it no longer served their interests. Couple this with Mr Bainimarama’s insistence that Australia and New Zealand take their leave, and it becomes clear that, once again, Australia’s apparent dearth of insight into its own neighbourhood leaves it rudderless, clumsily knocking the china off the shelves.

Maybe it is in fact time for a re-think on how Pacific island states align themselves.

Arguably, New Zealand may be forgiven for its occasional lapses into introspection. But aside from economic aid, it is perfectly reasonable to ask what Australia has done to earn its place as a citizen of the Pacific neighbourhood.

Now, let’s be fair. We can’t for a moment pretend that Australia’s largesse isn’t critical to the region’s development. But what with Nauru’s imploding democracy, Manus on the edge of anarchy and shambolic relations with PNG generally—to say nothing about the utter vacuum where its climate policy should be—there are more than a few Pacific islanders rolling their eyes today and wondering just how much more of this so-called help they really need.