Samoan Prime Minister Fiamē Naomi Mata’afa has expressed her concern over Australia’s potential to launch new gas and coal projects ahead of the country’s bid to host the world’s biggest climate conference.
Mata’afa told reporters on Wednesday she would have concerns if the Australian government doesn’t ban future coal and gas projects, with climate change one of Samoa’s “biggest threats.”
In November, Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen announced Australia would bid to host the 2026 COP31 – which stands for Conference of Parties.
Australia is seemingly in a “better place” to host the 2026 climate conference, with the Albanese Labor government’s emissions pledge to lift the country’s minimum 203o emissions reduction from 26 percent to 43 percent in full swing.
But the Samoan Prime Minister said she would “assume that in setting those higher targets to lessen emissions,” Australia would have a “broad range of actions to take.”
“I’m looking at it that they have set this target and would expect that they have a range of ways and means by which Australia will reach it,” Mata’afa said.
“It would be a concern if it was the case that there will be ongoing and especially new projects.”
Mata’afa, who is in Australia meeting with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to discuss a new co-operation agreement, also touched on China’s stance in the Pacific, saying the regions’s bilateral relations with Beijing are “nuanced.”
“Samoa was probably one of the first Pacific Island countries to have relations with China,” she said.
“Everyone’s interested in China; it’s a huge market.”
She said there was a “particular situation,” namely riots, in the Solomon Islands where Chinese nationals were affected.
They sparked China’s interest in bringing security personnel to the region “in a sense to protect those assets, physical and human,” but she was concerned it would become a trend to develop assets in receiving countries.
“I think it’s an issue that needs to be looked at, because it could easily develop as a trend,” she said.
“It would not be a trend that I encourage.
“They probably do it covertly anyway, in that countries protect their assets or their interests. But now, in the case of what happened in the Solomon Islands, it’s much more upfront and open.”
Mata’afa also revealed Albanese had shared plans to introduce an First Nations Voice to Parliament in the coming year, and a meeting with the Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney clarified the process of doing so.
“In broad terms of Australia‘s policy, (Albanese) was very clear in wanting to tell us the incorporation of the recognition of a First Nations Voice is a process,” she said.
“(Linda Burney) walked us through what she needs to do to enshrine that in your constitution.
“She did tell us that it’s not an easy task, especially because it has to be done through referendum. We understand that.
“Of course, we are very much in support of the intention to carry that through,” she said.