Funafuti, Tuvalu: Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he is accountable only to the Australian people after holding his ground against Pacific leaders who had joined forces to dial up the region’s efforts to phase out coal.
Australia was left isolated as leaders bickered during a marathon summit meeting on Thursday night, as fears grow that China will seek to exploit diplomatic differences over how to respond to the effects of climate change on low-lying island nations.
Mr Morrison stood his ground against the anti-coal push, while acknowledging climate change was the single biggest threat to the security of Pacific island nations.
The Prime Minister went on a hard economic sell during the 12-hour meeting, telling leaders that getting young people into jobs with help from schemes such as the Pacific worker program was key to the region’s future prosperity.
Mr Morrison did much of the negotiating with other leaders, sidestepping diplomats to ensure the final statement incorporated key concerns from Pacific countries while retaining Australia’s right to maintain its own economic interests.
PM believes Australia is doing enough to reduce emissions
Asked whether he would have to answer to the Pacific over his stance, Mr Morrison replied: “I am accountable to the Australia people – that’s who I’m accountable for.”
Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga, the chairman of the forum, hinted there were major disagreements during the summit but said he was pleased to get a “negotiated outcome”.
“Australia is an important partner in the forum family, likewise everyone else. We tried our best,” Mr Sopoaga said.
“I think we can say we should have done more work for our people. We have to live with that.”
Both Mr Morrison and the Trump administration have re-engaged with the region as China’s influence grows through billions of dollars worth of loans and infrastructure investments.
Mr Morrison said the role of other state actors had not been mentioned at the leader retreat, with most discussions focusing on matters of urgency like illegal fishing and the fallout from nuclear testing over many decades.
Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Malielegaoi, one of the Pacific’s most influential leaders, said on Thursday that island nations would not line up with Australia and the United States against China, declaring “their enemies are not our enemies”.
In addition to tweaking the forum’s final declaration, Australia also pushed back on attempts from smaller island states to include a strong statement urging the world to speed up its transition away from coal towards renewable energy.
Australia also succeeded in its push to not have the term “climate change crisis” in the communique. Sourch: theage