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"Fierce" Meeting; "Watered-Down Communique"; Drowning Pacific Islands; Australia Intransigence Blamed

FUNAFUTI, Tuvalu

A statement of the Pacific Islands Forum on the climate crisis and global warming, issued August 16, fell short of being the compelling global call to action that many island nations desired.

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama tweeted that the language was “watered down”. Reportage on the 12-hour meeting on August 15 indicates that the debates were very heated and that there were at least two “break-downs” in discussions.

Ralph Regenvanu, Vanuatu’s foreign minister and an observer at the meeting, confirmed that the break-downs were attributable to Australia’s unwillingness to move from its position. In the end, however, the group agreed on language that will be presented at the United Nations climate forum in September.

At the insistence of Australia there is no direct mention of ending coal-fired power, and calls to limit temperature rises to 1.5C and achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2050 have now been couched as suggestions rather than demands.

The communiqué developed by the regional forum fell short of some expectations as it seemed to settle on the status quo. "Watered-down climate language has real consequences like water-logged homes, schools, communities, and ancestral burial grounds," Bainimarama added.

The island leaders blamed the “red lines” of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison for the outcome. They have criticized him for putting his country's economy first.

Despite the concessions to Australia throughout the communique and climate change statement, some leaders believe that they had achieved “probably the best outcome given the context and circumstances”. The statement is probably a “stronger statement on climate change than the forum has ever made”.

Morrison appears to have defended Australia’s coal industry but also defended Australia’s efforts to fight climate change, claiming that his attendance at the meeting supported his respect for the island nations. He argues that climate change can be managed efficiently without harming the economy.

Activists have also criticized Australia’s position. Al Jazeera reports that Greenpeace International’s head for the Pacific region, Joseph Moenono-Kolio, said: "at all levels in the Pacific, we are being hit by this crisis and we really need everyone in the region, particularly our larger partners like Australia, to be pushing ahead to do the right thing."

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