Enele Sopoaga

A former Tuvalu Prime Minister scolded the Australian Government and its fossil fuel industry at a recent climate integrity summit in Canberra.

Enele Sopoaga, Tuvalu’s Prime Minister from 2013-2019, was keynote speaker at the Canberra conference last month.

He used the opportunity in the Australian capital to tell the Australian Government that it appears “the fossil fuel industry has total control over the nation’s economic and foreign policy.”

“While Australia pretends to be good friends of the Pacific, it continues to export coal and gas. Australia is dealing with our demise, Sopoaga told delegates at The Australia Institute conference.

His island nation of Tuvalu with a population of just over 11,000 – enjoys good relations with Australia, but Sopoaga said, “This relationship becomes more and more strained… because our future is being undermined by Australia’s climate change policy, or more correctly its fossil fuel export policy.”

He said ‘continued mining and export of coal and gas by Australia creates a death warrant for Tuvalu.’

His key message to Australia and the fossil fuel industry was, “The more Australia digs up fossil fuels the more uncertain Tuvalu’s future becomes.”

“This is not just a concern for the Pacific. It affects the rest of the world. People all over the world are suffering from floods and droughts. A recent report by UN Women and UN DESA says that between 2000 and 2019, flooding events globally caused $650 billion in economic losses, affecting 1.7 billion people and resulting in over 100,00 deaths. Make no mistake about this. This is climate change. It is happening now, not some time in the future. Australia’s exported emissions are contributing to, he rebuked.

Climate integrity is a critical issue for a small atoll nation like Tuvalu, considered one of the most vulnerable nations to climate change in the world. The highest point above sea level for the entire country is only four metres.

He turned his reprimand to the new security pact with his government, known as the Falepili Union Treaty, signed last year between Anthony Albanese and former Prime Minister Kausea Natano.

“For a small migration entitlement, Tuvalu was being asked to hand over its sovereignty to Australia. It basically said that before Tuvalu entered into any security agreement, it had to get Australia’s approval first.

“This is neo-colonialism at its worst. It is disrespectful of Tuvalu’s national interests, its sovereign interests and a slight on Tuvalu’s ability to make strategic decisions on its own. It was shameful bullying by Australia,” he said.

Sopoaga questioned why a security pact like Falepili is not reciprocated by Australia.

“Was Tuvalu consulted when Australia signed AUKUS or the Quad agreements? Of course it wasn’t. This is despite the fact that Australia has agreed to buy nuclear powered submarines that will travel through the Pacific.

“The Pacific has a long and tragic history around nuclear weapons. We were the testing ground for nuclear bombs by the United States, the French and the United Kingdom. Allowing nuclear submarines to travel through the Pacific flies in the face of this sad history and concern about nuclear weapons. Of course, we will never be told whether these nuclear powered submarines will be carrying nuclear weapons or not, Sopoaga rebuked.

Sopoaga, who is also an eminent member of the Pacific Elders Voice (PEV) said the Pacific wants a future in the Pacific and not in a refugee camp in Australia.

“Let’s turn this ship around and stop the export of fossil fuels and move to a sustainable future. This is what climate integrity is all about, Sopoaga appealed.