The burning of fossil fuels. Source: ABC

08 Dec We must ask our friend to do better

Samoa and Australia ARE friends. And yes, we are grateful. But no friendship is perfect. And gratitude should not cloud our vision and stop us from evaluating our friendships. Or asking for them to be better. Especially when it comes to climate change.

Yesterday, visiting Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said as she signed an Aid partnership arrangement with PM Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, that ‘Australia has no closer friend in the Pacific than Samoa’.

Beautiful words that carry much truth in them because yes, Samoa and Australia ARE  friends. The Australian Government will provide an estimated $37.8 million in total Official Development Assistance to Samoa in 2016-17. This includes an estimated $23.6 million in bilateral funding to Samoa managed by DFAT (Dept of Foreign Affairs and Trade). Thats a lot of money and a lot of technical support.  And yes, we are grateful.

But no friendship is perfect. And gratitude should not cloud our vision and stop us from evaluating our friendships. Or asking for them to do better.

Ua fetaui lelei fola o le alia. (The deck planks of the voyaging canoe fit together well.) This proverb refers to our valuing of va fealoa’i, interpersonal relationships. It means that great accomplishments and social harmony are only possible when everyone ‘fits’ together like the watertight planks of the alia. When building your alia that will carry you and your loved ones across the great Pacific ocean, there is no room for dubious construction materials. Or for coming up short. Holding back.

So in that spirit, I have some questions for the Hon. Julie Bishop and the government she represents, specifically to do with climate change.

If Australia is our friend, then: why is it ranked the worst country among the G20 when it comes to action on climate change? According to an assessment done before the Sept summit in China? In a report that noted, if every country emulated Australia’s (half-hearted, rather dismal) level of ambition, then global warming would likely “exceed 4 degrees.” Instead of the 1.5 it and many other countries agreed to in Paris.

If Australia is our friend, then why was it rated 5th WORST on the climate change performance index at the recent Morocco Climate conference?

Why at this very moment, is the $21 billion Adani coal mine going ahead in Queensland, a mine that when it’s finished will be one of the biggest in the world? Shouldn’t they be cutting back on fossil fuels instead of unearthing more?

Pacific climate change warriors.
Image: Litia Maiava / Te Mana
Source: Pacific Scoop

If one of our very best friends in the Pacific were truly concerned about us and all the other small island states, then they would have stronger laws to deal with climate change because currently they have no greenhouse gas trigger in their federal law. They have an environmental assessment process that considers how a project will impact ON THEM. But not how it will add to greenhouse gas emissions and affect the rest of us – sitting on our islands and atolls, valiantly going 100% solar because ‘we are not drowning, we are fighting.

In case you think I’m being a little harsh on our Australian friends, I do note that they’re doing some useful things in the climate change adaptation field too. For example, they provided $12 million for the UNDP for exactly that, implemented across 42 countries, supporting “practical activities that make a real difference to people’s lives”.  This program is upgrading the sea wall on Manono Island, providing training in disaster preparedness, building a disaster safe house, and more. All so they can “increase the resilience of coastal communities”.

Except, maybe…if bigger, fossil-fuel producing friends like Australia took this whole climate change thing a bit more seriously, then families on Manono wouldn’t NEED that seawall so badly? And let’s be honest here – $12 million sounds like a lot, but implemented across 42 countries? In the face of a coal mine worth billions, that’s chump change.

But then, from an economic perspective, can we really blame them? Fossil fuels make a lot of money for Australia. Provide many thousands of jobs. And help make Australia the kind of powerful friend who can afford to be generous to its small island states friends. $37.8 million dollars generous to be precise.

So maybe, we shouldn’t bite the hand that helps feed us? Maybe we should cut Australia some slack and accept that they’re doing the very best they can with the abundant resources they’ve been blessed with?

Or maybe we should trust that when Australia signs climate change agreements – they’re 100% dedicated to them. This morning, Australian media report that Hon Min Julie Bishop said that Australia remained committed to its target to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 per cent compared with 2005 levels. And “Australia is on track to meet its targets that were determined back in August 2015.”

So on paper, on record at least, Australia is saying all the right things.

It’s the doing that I’m a bit more concerned about.

I’m sure Australia is doing lots of other helpful things throughout the Pacific to assist us in adapting to climate change and preparing for all it’s hellish effects.

But I for one can’t be very grateful when a friend tries to help me in little ways,  so I can cope with an overwhelming planet-destroying problem – while at the same time, they are major contributors to that problem.

As the Adani mine prepares to open, and certain Australian parliamentarians quibble over an emission intensity scheme (a carbon tax?! Noooo!), and whether they should follow US President-Elect Donald Trump’s pledge to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement, I wonder;

When it comes to climate change – are we really working together?

Because it seems that when it comes to climate change – ua le fetaui lelei fola o le alia. The deck planks of this voyaging canoe do NOT fit together well.

When it comes to climate change – we must ask our friend to do better.

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