International climate negotiations just got dirty, even if the final stage hasn’t started. Australia and New Zealand’s corrupt and underhanded means of getting their way inside the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) carries the stench of colonialism. It is no secret that in this fora they continue to use their small contributions to our poor countries as a means of ensuring absolute power in the region. I am reminded of the phrase Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely
I knew from the moment we started talking to delegates in Cairns that something nasty was about to go down. What I underestimated was Australia’s ability to pull the rug from under our feet for its own gain.
The structure of the meetings changed this year. Usually a Forum Officials Committee (FOC) is held a day before the Leaders Retreat, so that the experts can thrash out all the issues and meeting papers and Leaders are briefed accordingly and given draft conclusions. This year, there was no FOC meeting, everything was just dumped on the Leaders plates (Trade, Climate Change etc)
Meeting papers for Cairns arrived in delegates email inboxes on Sunday night and Monday morning. Some didn’t get them at all. The meeting papers were for the Leaders only and contained draft declarations on technical issues like climate change. There were no climate change experts from the Pacific in Cairns.
We were told by an official that at the Small Islands States (SIS) caucus meeting on Tuesday a suggestion was made by a senior member of the Secretariat to ‘tone down the language’ when the delegates were discussing emission reduction targets. The member of the Secretariat who made the suggestion was a Pacific Islander. Absurd? Not if you consider that two thirds of the Secretariat is funded by Australia and NZ.
The SIS meeting concluded at lunchtime on Tuesday and the outcomes were announced at a press conference. The SIS reiterated the call to industrialised countries for a global reduction average of 45% below 1990 levels by 2020. The SIS Communiqué, as per tradition, was expected to come out that same day. To date, it still has not been released. Why is this a big deal? Every year, the SIS communiqué is the first outcome of these meetings and is released before the main PIF communiqué is compiled. The SIS caucus consist of the world’s most vulnerable countries (Kiribati, Tuvalu, Marshall Islands etc) so the SIS communiqué is traditionally more ambitious, sounds more urgent and is more genuine in its climate change resolutions.
Every year it sets a benchmark for climate change resolutions that the PIF communiqué usually fails to achieve. There was no way the Rudd Government were going to allow this year on their soils, for fear it would give ammunition to the many Australians who want their government to take a stronger position on climate change.
A Climate Change side event was organised and slots were offered to Greenpeace and AOSIS Chairwoman Ambassador Dr. Dessima Williams among others. It was bad enough that the side event was deliberately scheduled to happen on the morning that the Leaders were away on their retreat (so that they wont hear the messages) but media were also banned. The explanation given by the Secretariat was that they wanted to prevent “mixed messages” being sent out. And what is that mixed message you might ask: AOSIS calling strongly for global efforts to ensure any temperature rise is kept well below 1.5 degrees C. Greenpeace supporting the call by AOSIS for more than 45% reductions in global emissions by 2020, Australia pours more money to increase its coal production. (Yes, coal! Get the picture?) The positions of AOSIS (Pacific are a part of AOSIS) are far more ambitious that what Australia and New Zealand are prepared to do so it seems the strategy was control what gets out and hoodwink Pacific Prime Minister into endorsing 2 degrees C as a way of undermining their own negotiators in AOSIS. Well done Australia and NZ!
The PIF Communiqué 2009 contains a document (now attached as Annex A) that was only given to the Leaders in Cairns. Our Leaders should have been given time to seek the advice of their Environment Ministries/Climate Change experts. The Australia and New Zealand governments are well aware of the Pacific’s negotiating positions on climate change. As part of AOSIS, the Pacific is calling for temperature rise to be limited to 1.5 degrees C (NOT 2 degrees C), aggregate emission reductions from industrialised nations of 95% by 2050 (NOT 50% by 2050)
Due to the lack of capacity in these countries, not all arms of government are thoroughly briefed on the negotiations all the time. Often Prime Ministers only have a limited knowledge of these issues due to having too much to deal with. The Australian government as the host country who introduced the “Pacific Call for Action on Climate Change” (yes the Annex A document was all them!) at the Leaders level, should have suggested in good faith, that Leaders bring with them Climate Change experts to advise on this document. But it was too convenient to be courteous and fair!
The world should know that the Pacific Islands Forum has today ceased to become relevant to the people of the Pacific and to the issues that really matter. Climate Change is the biggest security threat facing the region right now and the scientific projections are dire. Yet the former colonial powers have succeeded in manipulating the science-based positions of our government while exploiting the low level of technical understanding that our Leaders have on this issue. This is scandalous at most. Getting our Leaders to endorse 2 degrees as the limit in global temperature increases is a death sentence for small island countries like Tuvalu and Kiribati that the PIF supposedly serves.
Cairnsgate is a sign that neo-colonialism is an uglier and indiscriminate form of domination.
Shirley Atatagi is from Samoa and is Greenpeace's Pacific Political Advisor.