Australia responds to climate concerns by redirecting aid

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Photo by: REUTERS/Feline Lim

CANBERRA — In advance of his visit to Tuvalu for the Pacific Island Leaders Meeting this week, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has aimed to combat growing concerns about a lack of action on climate from Australia — in particular its reliance on coal for local energy and trade — as part of a new funding announcement.

In a media release, Morrison said he would announce a climate change and oceans package at the forum in Tuvalu, which includes 500 million Australian dollars ($338 million) over five years from 2020 to help the Pacific invest in renewable energy, and climate and disaster resilience.

“The $500 million we’re investing for the Pacific’s renewable energy and its climate change and disaster resilience builds on the $300 million for 2016-2020,” he said. “This highlights our commitment to not just meeting our emissions reduction obligations at home but supporting our neighbours and friends.”

However, the new allocation is not new money, but a redirection of the existing aid budget released in April.

“The aid budget is staying the same, but we’re spending more on what the Pacific is telling us is their needs,” Alex Hawke, the minister for international development and the Pacific, told media from Tuvalu.

“Pacific leaders have been emphatic in their requests of Australia: Please move beyond coal, shift to zero climate pollution as soon as possible, and stop undermining our future.”

— Simon Bradshaw, Oxfam Australia climate change advisor

Where the money will go

According to Morrison, the “additional” $500 million will be invested into renewable energy projects, infrastructure that can withstand disasters, and supporting changing needs of health services to respond to climate challenges. Of that, 140 million Australian dollars ($95 million) will be used for the development of a newly announced Australian Private Sector Mobilisation Climate Fund to generate private sector investments in climate solutions for the Pacific and Southeast Asia.

The redirection of funds will also see a “climate infrastructure window” within the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific to advance the clean energy projects, and bilateral climate change dialogues with the Pacific will help “better understand their needs and ambitions,” according to Morrison.

Where is it being redirected from?

Andrew Campbell, CEO of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, told Devex he was not aware of any redirection of Australian aid funds supporting ACIAR projects.

“As far as I am aware we are still working based on the forward estimates in the April budget,” he said.

But he said their programming had already been shifting to support the Pacific step-up and  approved and planned programs were aiming to better support the region with food security and agriculture in a changing climate.

The impact of funding to other regions and sectors under the Australian aid program is yet to be confirmed and may not be known until the 2020 budget is released.

Calls for greater action

Oxfam Australia climate change advisor Simon Bradshaw, in Tuvalu for the Pacific Islands Forum, said that the Australian announcement could not be considered a response to Pacific demands.

“Pacific leaders have been emphatic in their requests of Australia: Please move beyond coal, shift to zero climate pollution as soon as possible, and stop undermining our future,” he said. “While greater certainty on Australia’s future funding for climate change adaptation in the region is welcome, it is not a substitute for action at home to tackle the causes of this crisis — the burning of fossil fuels.”

A communique shared by heads and representatives of governments from Pacific Small Island Developing States following an Aug. 12 meeting on the sidelines of the Pacific Islands Forum highlighted the calls of Pacific leaders to the world — including replenishment of the Green Climate Fund, greater climate mitigation action, and introduction of carbon taxes and ending subsidies for fossil fuels.

“Yesterday, we heard Pacific leaders express once again their grave fears for their islands’ and their children’s future should Australia and the world fail to listen to the science and to those on the frontlines of this crisis,” Bradshaw said. “All nations must play their part in limiting warming to 1.5C. This means no new coal. Here in Tuvalu, it’s a matter of survival.”

Australia’s unwillingness to discuss coal was highlighted best by minister for resources and Northern Australia Matthew Caravan, who demonstrated the Australian reliance on fossil fuels in a simple graph — the exports of goal, gas and iron ore together exceed all other Australian exports. While Australia’s exports are promoted proudly within the government, action to end this was unlikely but Bradshaw said it meant the redirection of aid spending could be wasted.

“We reaffirm that Australia’s failure to tackle the climate crisis, a key driver of inequality and poverty, risks undermining all the gains of recent decades and any short-term benefits such funding may yield,” he said.

In response to the Australian announcement Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga, the incoming chair for the 2019 Pacific Islands Forum, said that while spending was the decision of Australia it was not a response that addressed Pacific concerns and that action to cut emissions was required.

Morrison is expected to face further calls for concrete climate action later this week in Tuvalu.

About the author

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    Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Devex Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through news.com.au. Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.