Pacific Islands call on U.S. to recommit to the Paris Agreement on climate change

Australia, New Zealand, and nations of the Pacific Islands are calling on the U.S. to return to the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change after Donald Trump officially withdrew the country from it last year. They’ve also signed an agreement deeming climate change “the single greatest threat” to the region.

This all happened during the 49th Pacific Islands Forum — a gathering of leaders from large islands like Australia and New Zealand, as well as smaller ones like Samoa, Vanuatu, Tonga, New Caledonia, and the Marshall Islands — which took place on the island of Nauru on Thursday.

Dubbed the Boe Declaration and signed by national representatives including New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, and Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, the new agreement describes climate change as a “regional security challenge” to the Pacific, alongside cybercrime and transnational crime. 

“Recognising that climate change presents the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security, and wellbeing of Pacific people, leaders reaffirmed the importance of immediate urgent action to combat climate change,” reads the agreement’s forum communique.

“Leaders called on countries, particularly large emitters, to fully implement their Nationally Determined Contribution mitigation targets, including through the development and transfer of renewable energy, in line with committed timeframes.”

The event has not been without controversy. It’s coincided with a damning report published Monday by the Refugee Council of Australia that stated that children of asylum-seekers on Nauru have been traumatised by systemic abuse. A New Zealand journalist was also arrested and detained for attempting to interview a refugee on the island.

So they’ve signed on the dotted line. Is it all talk?

An agreement is a step in the right direction, for sure. But while acknowledging the threat of climate change to regional security is one thing, actually tackling it is another.

New Zealand is quite frankly all over it, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern taking significant steps to combat the issue. In April, she announced that the country would be stopping all new offshore exploration so the oil and gas industry can address climate change. 

New Zealand and Japan have also just announced they will cooperate to “ensure the success” of the Pacific Climate Change Centre in Samoa.

Australia’s attitude toward tackling climate change, however, has been all over the place of late. In October of last year, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull dumped the country’s Clean Energy Target for a so-called “plan” that removes subsidies for renewable energy and hands the mic to coal power. Great.

The new plan, dubbed the National Energy Guarantee, is simultaneously pressuring energy companies to supply sufficient power to Australians, while also requiring those companies to reduce emissions over 2020 to 2030.

Some have seriously questioned whether the country will be able to meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement under this new scheme. The agreement requires nations to cut their greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above the preindustrial average.

We’ll see what happens. The ABC reports that Pacific leaders will work together ahead of the UN’s COP24 climate change conference in December, taking place in Katowice, Poland.

Washington formally announced it would withdraw from the landmark climate agreement in August last year.

The Boe Declaration, named after the district in Nauru it was signed in, expands the concept of security to include human security, environmental and resource security, as well as transnational crime and cybersecurity.

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