Senior leaders from Christian, Muslim and Buddhist faiths visited key Ministers and MPs in Canberra last Thursday to urge the federal Labor government to put an end to all new fossil fuel projects in Australia, and to listen to the voices of Pacific Island nations calling for Australia to phase out fossil fuels.

The faith leaders met with Climate Minister Chris Bowen, Shadow Climate Minister Ted O’Brien, an advisor to Foreign Minister Penny Wong, and ACT Senator David Pocock.

They also stood in solidarity with former diplomat Gregory Andrews, who was observing a hunger strike on the Parliament House lawns to call on the government to take stronger action on climate.

This advocacy mission followed an open letter that more than 100 senior religious leaders from across Australia and the Pacific sent to Prime Minister Albanese last year calling an end to new coal and gas projects. Only one religious leader who signed received a reply.

The faith leaders raised their concerns just days after the government announced plans at the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Meeting to take Tuvalu’s climate refugees as migrants in Australia while at the same time not committing to calls from some Pacific governments for a fossil fuel phase-out.

The leaders are concerned that the final text of the Communique from the Forum referred to “aspiring” to phase out fossil fuels rather than “committing” to it, that it excluded emissions from exports, and there was no timeline stated.

Uniting Church NSW.ACT Moderator, the Reverend Faaimata (Mata) Havea Hiliau, said: “…this is now a full blown crisis, we have no time left to lose – we stand here today united as people of faith, we need the same from our nation’s political leaders.

“As a faith leader, and a daughter of the Pacific, I know what’s at stake if we don’t address this climate crisis and its unfolding impacts – people’s homes are literally being swept into the ocean.

“We need to be absolutely clear- we must rule out all new fossil fuel developments and we need to address the damage being done by our fossil fuel exports,” Hiliau said.

Their message for Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek is that they want her to make protecting the climate one of the objectives of the Environment Protection Biodiversity and Conservation (EPBC) Act, the main piece of national environmental legislation. The Minister is reviewing that Act and it is not clear if climate impacts will be a criterion for approving projects.

“It is simply not moral for our environmental laws not to mention the climate”, said Vice President of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Mohamed Mohideen OAM. “We need real and meaningful action from the Government, urgently. We need to stop digging up new fossil fuel reserves which, in all good conscience, we know should not be exported and that scientists tell us we can never burn without real harm to life on Earth”.

They told Climate Minister Chris Bowen that his ambition needs to include emissions from exports.

“This Government has made a good start on reducing our domestic use of coal and gas. However, scientists have made clear that to stay below 1.5C of warming there can be no new fossil fuel projects. To date there is no plan to address the effect of the coal and gas we dig up and send overseas. It is not enough to simply say that these emissions are counted against the targets of the countries where they are burned. The consequences are the same as if they were burned here in Australia. The moral equation is the same,” Gawaine Powell Davies, President of the Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils, said.

“We all declare solidarity with the Pasifika communities who are well and truly on the frontlines of this unfolding climate crisis, as well as with our Australian communities who have endured the Black Summer bushfires, followed by three years of extreme floods, only to be facing the prospect of bushfires again this summer,” Uniting Church President, Reverend Sharon Hollis, said.