Australia pushes Pacific islands to drop calls for stronger climate action

By Colin Packham
FILE PHOTO: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a joint press conference at the Istana Presidential Palace in Singapore,

By Colin Packham

FUNAFUTI, Tuvalu (Reuters) - Australia stepped up efforts on Wednesday to convince Pacific Islands to abandon calls for tougher climate change goals, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrived in the tiny island of Tuvalu.

The low-lying Pacific islands are on the frontline of global climate change, battling rising sea levels and related crises that have forced some residents to move to higher ground.

Morrison arrived on a two-day visit to attend the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) as officials began negotiating policies that many regional leaders said should include limiting temperatures rises to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels and an immediate end to coal mining.

Australia will not agree to any PIF statement demanding tougher climate goals and Morrison would make this clear to Pacific leaders, Minister for the Pacific Alex Hawke said.

"Australia's position on coal is we won't have a communique where coal and coal-fired generation, or phasing it out now, is a realistic proposition," he added.

In 2016 Australia signed the Paris Agreement that commits signatories to policies that limit temperature increases to no more than 2 degrees C, while Morrison is a firm supporter of the country's coal industry.

In June, Australia approved a new coal mine in its northeastern state of Queensland by India's Adani Enterprises that is expected to produce 8 million to 10 million tonnes of thermal coal each year.

Morrison's strong backing of the mine was a key factor in his government's surprise re-election in May.

Unwilling to budge, Australia is now looking for allies to prevent agreement among the other 17 Forum members, and Morrison acknowledged tension among the group.

"If you're going to step up, you've got to show up, and Australia's going to show up," he told reporters. "We are going to show for the hard conversations, the good conversations and the family conversations."

Morrison met Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai and Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand. He is also set to hold talks with Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna and Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga.

Australia's stance on climate change has been a source of tension with its Pacific neighbours, even as it tries to build influence to check the rise of China in the region.

($1=1.4712 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Grant McCool and Clarence Fernandez)