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Australia tells Pacific leaders: we won't budge on coal

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Australia is trying to remove mention of phasing out of coal in the communique at the Pacific Islands Forum.

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison is due to touch down in Tuvalu’s capital of Funafuti on Wednesday, joining Minister for the Pacific Alex Hawke.

Hawke says coal is a “red line issue” for Australia in negotiations with its smaller island neighbours.

“Australia’s position on coal is we won’t have a communique where coal and coal-fired generation, or phasing it out now, is a realistic proposition,” he told ABC’s Radio National.

“We wouldn’t want to see talks break down, but every country has their position, every country has the things that they need to stick with. Australia has a position that we need to stick with.”

The final communique will be drawn from the Nadi Bay Declaration, which was agreed to by the smaller island nations ahead of the leaders’ meeting.

It makes specific calls to rule out new coal mines and to phase out the resource, with Fiji’s leader Frank Bainimarama telling the islands to not let Australia water down such language.

Hawke on Tuesday defended the controversial Adani coalmine in Queensland, saying that Australia only had two new coal mines on the way, compared to hundreds across the globe.

Morrison’s arrival is hotly anticipated, as he will be faced with local children sitting in a shallow pool of water to show how their home is on the forefront of climate change.

The children, singing “save Tuvalu, save the world”, have greeted all leaders, but criticism of Australia’s climate policies makes it a dig towards the larger neighbour.

Australia’s approach to reducing emissions and reliance on coal has been under the spotlight at the leaders’ forum, with the smaller islands reiterating the existential threat they face from climate change.

They want Australia to abandon its decision to use carryover credits towards the Paris agreement emissions reduction goal, but the federal government has stood firm against such calls.

Although the Tuvaluans welcomed an Australian commitment of $500 million over five years for climate resilience projects in the Pacific, Sopoaga said it didn’t give  Morrison a free pass on other issues.

New analysis by left-leaning The Australia Institute has found that by using carryover credits, the federal government will save itself from reducing emissions by the equivalent of seven years of fossil fuels to that of its Pacific neighbours.

Meanwhile, Labor’s spokesman for the Pacific Pat Conroy also has criticised the government for rebadging existing aid money, saying it will mean other countries receive less help.

Morrison is expected to have bilateral discussions with Vanuatu’s leader Charlot Salwai, New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern, Cook Islands head Henry Puna and Tuvalu’s Enele Sopoaga.

He is likely to use the meetings to raise concerns over China’s increasing presence in the region, while he has also announced $1.5 million for another 150 technical and vocational scholarships to help Pacific islanders looking for work.

-AAP

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