Australia told to end new fossil fuel subsidies if it wants Pacific support to host climate summit


Australia must stop subsidising new fossil fuel developments if it is to win a key Pacific nation’s support for its plan to co-host a major UN climate summit in 2026.

The Albanese government has launched a campaign at the Cop27 climate talks in Egypt to co-host the annual climate conference with Pacific neighbours in four years. The proposal could bring tens of thousands of people to an Australian city for climate negotiations and advocacy and has won support from the Pacific Islands Forum.

Vanuatu’s new climate change minister, Ralph Regenvanu, told Guardian Australia the support should be conditional.

A former foreign affairs minister who took on responsibility for climate change after national elections last month, Regenvanu said he was not critical of the Albanese government, describing it as a “breath of fresh air” and a refreshing change after the Morrison government, which was widely criticised for its inaction on global heating.

But he said his government could not endorse Australia’s co-hosting bid if it invested more money in developing fossil fuels, and would call on other Pacific countries to adopt the same stance.

“I will be talking to other Pacific island nations to make our support for Australia hosting the Cop conditional on no new government money being given to fossil fuels,” he said.

Regenvanu also called on Australia to rejoin the Green Climate Fund, which finances climate and clean energy projects in developing countries. Scott Morrison abruptly withdrew Australia from the fund in 2019, arguing his government would instead pay climate funding directly to Pacific countries.

Some Pacific countries have indicated they prefer this model as they believe the Green Climate Fund has not not focused enough on clean developments in the region. The Albanese government has not yet declared its position on the global fund, but announced an additional $900m (US$6001 million) to support climate development and resilience in the Pacific in the October budget.

Regenvanu said Australia should rejoin the fund to help fix it. “I told the minister that they need to get into the Green Climate Fund and change it so the most vulnerable countries, including in the Pacific, have access,” he said.

The climate change minister, Chris Bowen, has said there would be no government finance for new coal and gas fields under Labor, and some funding for gas and carbon capture and storage developments announced under the Coalition was redirected in the budget.

But the government has been criticised for maintaining $1.5bn (US$1 billion) equity support announced by the Morrison government for Darwin Harbour’s middle arm industrial precinct, which is expected to include developments using gas, and for expanding the offshore area available for oil and gas exploration.

Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies is a major focus for some countries at Cop27, with Tuvalu joining Vanuatu in calling for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty.

Debate on Wednesday focused on the wording of a possible agreement, with Bowen co-leading discussions over text dealing with long-term climate finance.

Other negotiating streams were working on text about loss and damage, mitigation, adaptation and carbon markets. Loss and damage, which refers to a push by developing countries for a fund or facility to pay for the impact of worsening climate disasters, appeared the most contentious. The Alliance of Small Island States, a negotiating bloc, said it feared some wealthy countries were backtracking on the issue.

The most energised public moment of the day was a public appearance by the Brazilian president-elect, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who vowed to begin undoing environmental damage that took place seen under his far-right predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, and to work towards ending deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

Later this week, Regenvanu is expected to use Cop27 to launch a final version of a resolution Vanuatu plans to put to the UN General Assembly. The resolution will ask the International Court of Justice for advice on the obligations of states to protect the rights of present and future generations against the effects of climate change.

Meanwhile, in response to comments made on ABC 730 regarding the Australian government’s position on a loss and damage finance facility at COP27, Shiva Gounden, Pacific advisor at Greenpeace Australia Pacific, said: “The comments that Australia is helping the Pacific through its existing aid budget when questioned on its stance on a loss and damage funding facility at COP27 are abysmal and incredibly disappointing. This is a time where Australia should be stepping up for its Pacific neighbours and walking its talk on strengthening the Pacific family and being ‘back at the table’ on climate action.

“Rich developed countries have been known to conflate aid, development, and finance for climate impacts into one pot to avoid providing additional funds. But the need for dedicated additional funds is clear, particularly for intangible non-economic losses such as loss of life, health, culture, and traditional lands.

“Australia’s initial support of another year of loss and damage talks at COP27 is not a success, it was merely a first step. The Pacific and developing countries around the world have been clear in their message. We must see the creation of a dedicated loss and damage finance facility at COP27.

“Australia wants to bid for COP31 with Pacific nations. A COP31 with the Pacific must be earned. And you do not earn COP31 by simply talking the talk. Australia has to stand side by side, hand in hand, with our Pacific family and be a true family member.

“This Australian government can be on the true side of history, by taking the strongest action for climate justice for the Pacific and pushing for a loss and damage facility to be established at this COP.”

Cop27 is due to finish on Friday night, but negotiations have been slow and some observers believe they will continue into the weekend.