Pacific leaders are warning the Albanese government it must raise its climate goals or risk harming Australia’s security ties to the region, following an alarming forecast that global warming will almost certainly exceed a crucial temperature limit within the next five years.
The World Meteorological Organisation on Wednesday warned there was a 98 per cent chance that at least one of the next five years would exceed an annual average global temperature of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
Australia signed the Paris Agreement in 2015, committing to make cuts to greenhouse emissions consistent with the global action needed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees – the level calculated by scientists to avoid the worst damage from climate change.
However, the government is failing this goal. Its target to cut emissions by 43 per cent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 is consistent with at least 2 degrees of warming.
“Crossing the 1.5 degree threshold means people from low-lying island countries like mine will face significant challenge to their lands, livelihoods and survivability,” former Republic of Marshall Islands president Hilda Cathy Heine told Sydney Morning Herald.
She is part of the Pacific Elders Voice group – which also includes former Kiribati president Anote Tong and former Tuvalu prime minister Enele Sopoaga – that has called for Australia to increase its climate targets, arguing their island nations are bearing the brunt of extreme storms and sea level rises.
The group issued a statement to the federal government on Thursday, warning its funding package of nearly $2 billion (US$1.3 million) to counter China’s growing influence in the region could fail if Australia did not increase its climate action.
“Australia has a clear desire to deepen its engagement in the Pacific and give meaning to the narrative of a regional ‘family’. This can’t happen without responding to our greatest threat – the climate crisis – including by prioritising a real, just and equitable phase-out of coal, oil and gas.”
The letter said Australia and China’s strategic focus on the region made people “feel less like players and more like the chessboard”.
It warned that the Albanese government’s failure to deliver urgent climate action in the recent budget may spur Pacific nations to reconsider their geopolitical ties with Australia – particularly after Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek last week issued final approval for a Queensland coal mine.
The World Meteorological has predicted the world will temporarily exceed 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels for at least one of the next five years.
“Perhaps it is time for the Pacific not to settle for a financial ‘win’, but to upend the chessboard entirely,” the letter said.
The government made an election promise to bring the UN’s international climate talks – known as COP – to the Pacific region and has formally lodged a bid for the talks in 2026, with the backing of Pacific nations.
To comply with the terms of the Paris Agreement, Labor must set a more ambitious 2035 target by early 2025.
A coalition of some of the nation’s largest carbon polluters, including BHP, Rio Tinto, Woodside and BP, last month urged Australian governments to deliver even deeper greenhouse gas cuts to comply with the 1.5-degree Paris target.
The Pacific Islands Climate Action Network (PICAN) said failure to halt warming to 1.5 degrees was an imminent threat to Pacific peoples.
“The climate crisis is not a future problem, and 1.5 degrees is not an abstract goal. It is the bare minimum required to ensure the survival of our islands and our people. It is our lifeline,” the network’s regional co-ordinator Lavetanalagi Seru said.