Pacific island nations, courted by China and the United States, have warned the superpowers, telling the world’s two biggest carbon emitters to take more action on climate change while pledging unity in the face of competition growing geopolitics.
At a four-day Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) summit, meeting in Fiji’s capital Suva, leaders bristled at a Chinese bid to carve some nations into a trade and security deal, while Washington pledged more financial and diplomatic engagement.
The exclusive economic zones of the forum’s 17 members span 30 million square kilometers (11.6 million square miles) of ocean – supplying half of the world’s tuna, the most consumed fish. Nations are also feeling some of the most severe effects of climate change as rising seas flood lower areas.
At the PIF summit which ended on Thursday, leaders adopted the language that several members used to declare a climate emergency, saying it was backed not just by science but also by the daily lives of people in the Pacific. .
A statement, which has yet to be released, shows nations focused on the upcoming UN climate conference, COP27. They will push for climate finance to be doubled from large emitters to developing countries within two years, money they say is needed to adapt to rising sea levels and climate change. worsening storms.
The statement, seen by Reuters news agency, also calls for significant progress at COP27 on financing the “loss and damage” suffered by vulnerable societies that cannot adapt and will have to relocate communities – a losing battle at last year’s global climate talks.
“What matters most to us is securing bold commitments from all countries at COP27 to phase out coal and other fossil fuels and increase funding for the most vulnerable nations and make advance causes such as ‘loss and damage’ that matter a lot to the most vulnerable and risk to island communities,” Fiji President Frank Bainimarama told reporters.
“We simply cannot settle for less than the survival of every Pacific island country,” said Bainimarama, chairman of the forum.
Tuvalu’s Foreign Minister Simon Kofe, who literally made waves at the last world climate conference by standing knee-deep in seawater to show what his country is facing, said to Reuters: “There is technology available to protect the islands and uplift the islands and that is what we are looking for. It is very expensive.”
As the Pacific summit ended, Australian coal stocks soared on expectations that China could resume imports after a two-year political dispute halted coal shipments to the biggest coal burner of the world from its second largest exporter.
Contrary to the bullish market trend, leaders from the forum’s thatched-roof headquarters discussed how to handle the statehood of people whose nation has sunk in rising seas, or rights to areas of fisheries defined by their distance from a potentially disappearing landmass.
The statement cites an urgent need for assistance over debt vulnerability and rising food costs amid the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In a video address to the forum, US Vice President Kamala Harris pledged to triple funding for the Pacific Islands over a decade as part of a fishing treaty and to open more embassies.
Pacific leaders have at times shown irritation at the global attention given to the struggle between Washington and Beijing over their region.
Australia, in tone, talked less about security and pledged more support for its neighbours’ climate change agenda, although announcements of maritime surveillance to protect sustainable fisheries hinted at its fundamental concern. .
“It is more difficult for the countries responsible for most of the illegal fishing than to say that they are going to help the region to end illegal fishing,” Australian Minister for the Pacific, Pat Conroy, said in a statement. interview, referring to China.
Economic ties with China
Australian officials say privately they don’t want security choices in the region driven by economic ties to China, and while the Pacific islands are sophisticated players, they need financial support because many have historic debts to Beijing.
Fiji, for example, hasn’t taken any loans from China since 2012, but continues to service import-export bank loans for Chinese infrastructure projects that will cost the government Fiji$40 million. ($18 million) this year, according to budget documents.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Michael Shoebridge said Beijing has a track record of ‘split regionalism’, drawing a parallel between its recent Pacific diplomacy and a platform it created a long time ago. ten years to engage with European countries and circumvent the European Union.
Some leaders have said in interviews that China offers economic opportunities that small island economies cannot ignore, although they have agreed to work through the forum to stay united in their response to big power competition, especially on security, after being concerned that Beijing reached a security agreement in April with the Solomon Islands.
The forum’s general secretary has openly criticized China’s attempt to get around half of the forum’s members to sign a trade and security agreement in May that would exclude members with ties to Taiwan and exclude Australia and China. New Zealand. Leaders at the summit said it was rushed without consultation.
The Chinese Embassy in Fiji responded on Twitter on Saturday, saying Beijing prepared and presented the final document to the Pacific islands a month ahead of a meeting of foreign ministers. Beijing has created a new platform for cooperation with Pacific island countries through an annual meeting with its foreign minister, he said.