Tensions in the Solomon Islands come as no surprise to Sydney’s Pasifika community that has been calling for climate action for decades

Lidcombe Uniting Church minister Uilisone Mafaufau accused the government of “missing in action”, telling 200 attendees from across Sydney and the Pacific that he was angry it had not had contact with the Pasifika community.

“That empty chair is very disappointing, disturbing, and to tell you the truth… makes me very angry. We have informed [the Liberal Party] on the climate change focus of this meeting. And we have done everything we can to ask the LNP to join us,” he said.

“This is how much they think of us Pacific Island Australians… You might start to ask: why are the Solomons? [turning] elsewhere?”

Sydney Pasifika community leader, Reverend Alimoni Taumoepeau, said there was anger because the voices in the Pacific Island had been “marginalized for a long time”.

“Maybe because we’re migrants ourselves, we’re people of color, we’re not really recognized as people of power… We understand that Australia is very interested in the Pacific Islands, but we know [it is] because of national security.

“Pacific Islands want our region’s big siblings to listen to our concerns, to our pain. Climate change is a crisis in the Pacific: Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands are already drowning. Tonga, Samoa and Fiji are heading in the same direction.”

Taumoepeau said it was not too late to repair the damage. “We need to give space for our stories to be heard and for the concerns of the Pacific Islands to be acknowledged by our political leaders.”

According to the government, Australia has reduced its emissions by 20 percent to below 2005 levels, faster than comparable developed economies such as Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the United States.

However, an analysis by Honorary Professor Hugh Saddler of the Crawford School of Public Policy shows that Australia’s industrial emissions have continued to rise. In fact, had the changes in historical rates of land clearance been excluded, national emissions would have increased by about 7 percent.

dr. Wesley Morgan, an expert on Pacific Island affairs from Griffith University, said Australia’s reputation and status in the Pacific had been badly damaged over the past two decades as a result of climate politics.

“We want to be the Pacific’s preferred security partner, but when Pacific leaders tell us that climate change is their biggest security threat, we ignore them,” he said.

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He said the joke that then-immigration minister Peter Dutton made in 2015 that Pacific ministers were late to a meeting because “time means nothing when water is lapping at your door”, the Australian attitude of many in the Pacific.

“It was insulting to the leaders of the Pacific, but they weren’t surprised,” said Dr. Morgan, who is also a researcher with the Climate Council. “It confirmed a widely held belief that Australia is not taking the Pacific’s key security problem seriously.”

dr. Morgan said leaders in the Pacific “consider this a personal affront”.

“They know that China is the biggest emitter in the world, but they expect more from Australia. Australia is the largest member of the Pacific Islands Forum, it is part of the family. But it also rivals Indonesia to become the largest coal exporter in the world.

“They want China to do more, but they want Australia to help them call on China to do more. It’s personal.”

dr. Morgan said the concerns had been made clear to Australia for decades, with leaders in the Pacific at the forefront of a campaign to have climate recognized by the United Nations Security Council as a security risk.

In 2013, Marshall Islands Secretary of State Tony De Brum told the UN Security Council, “In whose twisted world, the potential loss of a country is not a threat to international peace and security?”

In 2018, Pacific leaders issued a regional security statement reaffirming that climate change poses “the greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and well-being of the peoples of the Pacific.” At the time, it was widely reported that Australia wanted to water down the language.

In 2020, the High Commissioner for the Solomon Islands in Australia said during a Senate hearing: “Lest we remember that climate change, not COVID-19, not even China, is the biggest threat to our security.”

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When asked whether Australia should do more on climate at a 2019 forum at the Australian National University, Solomon Islands diplomat Collin Beck, Permanent Secretary, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of the Solomon Islands.

“When we talk about climate change, it’s really a life and death situation for us. We want everyone, including Australia, to do their part.

“I’m not exactly sure how you define genocide,” he continued. “When you basically know that people will die, but you let that happen. The science is very clear about that.”

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