Editorial: Forum needs to unify over climate change
Reminder, this is a Premium article and requires a subscription to read. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern being greeted as she arrived in Fiji this week. Photo / Michael Neilson EDITORIAL It must be maddening indeed to sit and listen to world leaders talk stability and prosperity while your very demise is lapping at your feet. By the end of this century, the Pacific island nation of Kiribati will no longer exist, vanishing beneath an ocean rising as a result of climate change. Kiribati is one of 43 nations on the Climate Vulnerable Forum and has been a vocal proponent in limiting temperature rise from global warming to 1.5C. Few can quibble at the decision of the Kiribati Prime Minister to quit the Pacific Islands Forum this week in Fiji. The leaders of the Cook and Marshall islands have also pulled out for their own reasons. Dr Anna Powles, a Massey University expert in Pacific security, said it was clear Pacific island countries were "frustrated" at how attention from the superpowers had strayed from climate change. More so when these powers are simultaneously scaling up coal-burning to offset the impacts of a pandemic and wars. For the past decade Australia, once one of the Pacific's biggest champions, has more resembled a disinterested observer. The new Government, under Anthony Albanese who arrives at the forum today, has pledged to turn this around and lead on climate action, potentially also pressuring New Zealand to further contribute. New Zealand has committed $1.3 billion over four years towards climate change with at least half of that to the Pacific. But New Zealand's best chance to walk the talk at COP26 in Glasgow late last year ended with what Climate Change Minister James Shaw could only gild as a "least worst" outcome. The leaders' summit on Friday will need extra caution to avoid any hint of condescension. As much as the larger territories may feel they are in a position to offer advice along with support to small islands, each party is a sovereign nation. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has repeatedly stated the need to respect the sovereignty of Pacific nations in determining their own bilateral security arrangements, while also applying a regional lens. This forum needs to robustly tow that line. The sea is rising for all of us. New Zealand's tectonic and volcanic landforms are also vulnerable to the forces of nature. Looming over the Kiribati situation, as with several of our Pacific Island neighbours, is the presence of China. Foreign Minister Wang Yi's second stop in the Pacific recently was Kiribati, where fish would no doubt have been on the table during the four-hour discussion. At stake in Kiribati is the future of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, a stretch of ocean the size of California named a Unesco World Heritage site. In November, Kiribati President Taneti Maamau announced the Government will end the commercial fishing ban in place since 2015 and sustainably fish the area. Kiribati clearly believes it urgently needs to fish, and trade, for its survival. If the forum cannot unify over the needs of this member nation, and convince it of a serious commitment to fighting the march of the seas, then Kiribati will the first of many to pick up its feet and move on. Reminder, this is a Premium article and requires a subscription to read. It's been 22 years since the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in New York.