Can Scott Morrison deliver on climate change in Tuvalu – or is his Pacific ‘step up’ doomed?



Pacific leaders don’t want to talk about China’s rising influence – they want Scott Morrison to make a firm commitment to cut Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Tess Newton Cain, The University of Queensland

This week’s Pacific Islands Forum comes at an important time in the overall trajectory of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s very personal commitment to an Australian “stepping up” in the Pacific.

To paraphrase the PM, you have to show up to step up. And after skipping last year’s Pacific Islands Forum, Morrison has certainly been doing a fair amount of showing up around the region, with visits to Vanuatu and Fiji at the beginning of the year and the Solomon Islands immediately after his election victory.

Add to this his recent hosting of the new PNG prime minister, James Marape, and it is clear there has been significant energy devoted to establishing personal relationships with some of the leaders he will sit down with this week.

An ‘existential threat’ to the region

Regional politics and diplomacy in the Pacific are not for the faint of heart. It’s clear from the tone of recent statements by Foreign Minister Marise Payne and the minister for international development and the Pacific, Alex Hawke, that there is some disquiet ahead of the Tuvalu get-together.

And with good reason. For some time, the leaders of the region have been becoming increasingly vocal about the lack of meaningful action from Canberra when it comes to climate change mitigation.




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Most recently, ten of the Pacifc Islands Development Forum (PIDF) members signed the Nadi Bay Declaration, which advocated a complete move away from coal production and specifically criticised using “Kyoto carryover credits” as a means of achieving Paris targets on reducing emissions.

While this body does not have the regional clout of the Pacific Islands Forum, its membership includes key players, notably Fiji, Tuvalu, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, whose leaders have all spoken out strongly on the need for stronger action on climate change.

In a speech last month, Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama urged his fellow Pacific leaders to withstand any attempts to water down commitments on climate challenge in the region and globally.

Bainimarama’s warning: ‘Our region remains on the front line of humanity’s greatest challenges’

Bainimarama is attending this year’s Pacific Islands Forum for the first time since 2007, and has already made his presence felt. Earlier this week, he urged Australia to transition as quickly as possible from coal to renewable energy sources, because the Pacific faces

an existential threat that you don’t face and challenges we expect your governments and people to more fully appreciate.

Losing credibility on its ‘step up’

Given the state of Australia’s domestic politics when it comes to making climate change action more of a priority, it is hard to see how Morrison can deliver what the “Pacific family” is asking for.

The recent announcement of A$500 million to help Pacific nations invest in renewable energy and fund climate resilience programs is sure to be welcomed by Pacific leaders. As is the pledge for A$16m to help tackle marine plastic pollution.

But none of this money is new money – it’s being redirected from the aid budget. And it does not answer the call of Pacific leaders for Australia to do better when it comes to cutting emissions.

An aerial view of Funafuti, the most populous of Tuvalu’s country’s nine atolls.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Why does this matter? Because it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the inability – or refusal – to be part of the team when it comes to climate change is undermining Australia’s entire “Pacific step-up”.

If Morrison, and the Australian leadership more broadly, want to reassure Pacific leaders that Australia’s increased attention on the region is not just all about trying to counter Chinese influence, this is where the rubber hits the road.

This is not about whether China is doing better when it comes to climate change mitigation than Australia. The Pacific has greater expectations of Australia, not least because Australian leaders have been at pains to tell the region, and the world, that this is where they live – that Pacific islanders are their “family”.

And for Pacific islanders, if you are family, then there are obligations. This week, as has been the case previously, Pacific leaders will make clear that addressing climate change is their top priority, not geopolitical anxieties over China’s increasing role in the region.




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There is little doubt that Australia’s “Pacific step-up” is driven by concerns about the rising influence of China. But Morrison knows better than to voice concerns of that type – at least in public – while in Tuvalu.

Numerous Pacific leaders have made it clear that as far as they are concerned, partnerships with Beijing (for those that have them) provide for greater opportunity and choice.

While they welcome renewed ties with traditional partners like Australia and New Zealand, they maintain a “friends to all and enemies to none” approach to foreign policy. That is unlikely to change any time soon.

Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga has warned Australia that its Pacific ‘step up’ could be undermined by a refusal to act on climate change.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Will Tuvalu prove a turning point?

Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga may well be hoping that when Morrison sees for himself how climate change is affecting his country, he will be so moved personally, he will shift Australia’s stance politically.

Indeed, on arrival in the capital of Funafuti this week, leaders are being met by children sitting in pools of seawater singing a specially written song “Save Tuvalu, Save the World”.

So what can Morrison realistically be expected to achieve during the summit? He will be able to demonstrate Australia’s commitment to other issues that are important to regional security, such as transnational and organised crime and illegal fishing.

He can also hope the personal relationships he has cultivated with Pacific leaders deliver returns by way of compromise around the wording of the final communique, if only to avoid a diplomatic stoush.

But if there is no real commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, he will leave plenty of frustration behind when he returns to Australia.The Conversation

Tess Newton Cain, Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Political Science & International Studies, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia Institute analysis adds to Pacific pile-on over Morrison’s climate policy


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

An analysis from The Australia Institute accuses Scott Morrison of planning to exploit a “pollution loophole” equivalent to about eight years of fossil-fuel emissions from the rest of the Pacific and New Zealand.

The “loophole” is using Kyoto credits to help the government meet its emissions reduction target.

The progressive think tank issued its salvo ahead of the Pacific Island Forum in Tuvalu, which Morrison is attending and starts today.

Anxious to sandbag the Australian government against criticism over its climate policy from island countries, for which the climate change issue is major, Morrison has announced Australia is redirecting $500 million of the aid budget over five years to go to “investing for the Pacific’s renewable energy and its climate change and disaster resilience”.

But Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga quickly said the money should not be a substitute for action.

“No matter how much money you put on the table, it doesn’t give you the excuse not to do the right thing,” he said on Tuesday.

“Cutting down your emissions, including not opening your coal mines, that is the thing we want to see,” he said.

Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said this week: “I appeal to Australia to do everything possible to achieve a rapid transition from coal to energy sources that do not contribute to climate change”.

Morrison said on Tuesday: “Australia’s going to meet its 2030 Paris commitments. Australia’s going to smash its 2020 commitments when it comes to meeting our emissions reduction targets. So Australia meets its commitments, and we will always meet our commitments. And that is a point that I’ll be making again when I meet with Pacific leaders.”

Morrison confirmed before the election that Australia would use credits from overachieving on its Kyoto 2020 targets to meet its 2030 emissions reduction target.

The Australian Institute said: “If Australia uses this loophole, it would be the equivalent of about eight times larger than the annual fossil fuel emissions of its Pacific neighbours.”

Australia intends to use 367 Mt of carbon credits to avoid the majority of emission reductions pledged under its Paris Agreement target. Meanwhile the entire annual emissions from the Pacific Islands Forum members, excluding Australia, is only about 45 Mt.

The institute’s director for climate change and energy, Richie Merzian, said the government’s plan to use Kyoto credits was an insult to Pacific islanders.

“You can’t ‘step up’ in the Pacific while stepping back on climate action,” he said.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Environmental destruction is a war crime, but it’s almost impossible to fall foul of the laws



It was defoliants, seen here during Operation Ranch Hand in the Vietnam War, that prompted action to protect the environment during conflicts.
National Museum of the US Air Force

Shireen Daft, Macquarie University

An open letter from 24 scientists published in Nature last month calls on governments to draft a new Geneva Convention dedicated to protecting the environment during armed conflict.

This inspired a number of headlines that misleadingly said the scientists want environmental destruction to be made a war crime.

But environmental destruction is already recognised as a war crime by the International Criminal Court. The existing legal framework governing armed conflict also provides some protections for the environment.




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The problem is these protections are inadequate, inconsistent, unclear, and most military behaviour won’t fall foul of these laws.

The legal protections already in place

There are currently four Geneva Conventions and three Additional Protocols that are supposed to regulate conduct during armed conflict, sometimes known as the rules of war.

The original four Geneva Conventions, which celebrate their 70th anniversary this year, contain no explicit mention of the natural environment.

The use of Agent Orange (and Agents White and Blue) to defoliate huge spans of land during the Vietnam War led to the introduction of the first specific protections for the environment during armed conflict.

It’s shaky video to begin with but 18 seconds in you see US soldiers spraying Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

Following the Vietnam War, two major developments in the law occurred.

The first was the adoption of the United Nation’s Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques Convention (ENMOD) that prohibits the hostile use of environment-altering techniques that have “widespread, long-lasting, or severe effects”.

The second was the inclusion of provisions in Additional Protocol I (API) that prohibits methods or means intended or expected to cause “widespread, long term, and severe damage to the natural environment” during warfare.

Near impossibly high standards

Both treaties set a very high threshold for falling foul of the prohibitions. API requires that all three elements of damage — widespread, long term, and severe — must be met for military action to be in violation of this provision.

The consequence is that most military behaviour, even when damaging the environment, won’t be in violation of these laws.

Making it even more difficult, the meaning of the three terms differs between the two, and there is ongoing disagreement as to their definition.

While an understanding was reached to determine the definitions in ENMOD, there is still dispute about the meaning of the terms in API. The definitions provided here are among the more commonly accepted.
Shireen Daft, Author provided

The only environmental destruction in recent times that has been considered to meet such a high threshold was the setting alight of Kuwaiti oil fields by Iraqi forces as they withdrew during the 1991 Gulf War.

A Kuwaiti oil well fire, south of Kuwait City, in March 1991.
Wikimedia/EdJF, CC BY

The United Nations Compensation Commission held Iraq liable for the environmental damage caused in Kuwait. But because Iraq was not a party to either ENMOD or API, the Commission applied a unique legal standard derived from Security Council Resolution 687 and Iraq is still paying compensation to Kuwait to this day.

Neither ENMOD nor API specifies that a breach of these provisions constitutes a war crime. This came in 2002 when the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court came into force.

The Rome Statute says it is a war crime to intentionally cause “widespread, long-term, and severe damage to the natural environment which would be clearly excessive” to the military advantage to be obtained.

The terms are not defined in the Rome Statute, and what is meant by “clearly excessive” is subjective, and introduces a test of proportionality.

Another Geneva Convention?

A new international agreement that balances the interests of environmental protection and respects the laws on armed conflict could be of enormous benefit.

The existing legal framework is only equipped to deal with direct attacks on the natural environment.

But this ignores the many other ways the environment is affected by conflict. Resources such as diamonds, coltan, timber and ivory are all used to help fund conflicts, and this can place enormous stress on the environment.

A particular gap is that no consideration is given in the existing framework to non-human species – to wildlife affected by war or to animals used for military purposes. Yet conflict has proved the biggest predictor of population declines in wild species.

But a new treaty that creates strong, effective, and enforceable protections requires significant political will.

An attempt was made two decades ago, headed by Greenpeace, but no agreement could be reached. That attempt was made during a time when international cooperation and treaty development was at its highest, following the end of the Cold War.

In the current political and social environment it seems unlikely any attempt for such an agreement would be successful. At best, we would see watered-down protections, no stronger than what is already in place. Thus drafting such a Convention now could do more harm than good, in the long run.

If not a new treaty, then what?

The International Law Commission (ILC) is about to release its report dealing with the issue of protecting the environment during armed conflict. This was what inspired the Open Letter from the scientists in the first place.

The Draft Principles it is producing are not new principles of law, but those already found in the existing legal framework. Unfortunately the work produced so far continues to use “widespread, long term, and severe” with no clarity as to what they mean.

But they do confirm that all the fundamental principles of the rules of war apply to the environment, and should be interpreted “with a view to its protection”. The environment should not be a target, and the impact on the environment must be taken into consideration in military operations.

The work of the ILC should inform governments of the interpretation of existing law. Governments should then give more attention to the environment in the operational guidelines used by their militaries.




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The Australian Law of Armed Conflict manual, used by our defence forces, already acknowledges they have a duty to protect the natural environment. The next step is to move beyond this general principle to the specific, and have clear guidelines about what protecting the environment during armed conflict means, in practice.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is also currently updating its guidelines for all military manuals to ensure the environment is a consideration to be evaluated during all military operations.

While the world might not yet be ready to consider a new Geneva Convention relating to the environment, the survival of our natural environment does depend on changes being made to the way the war is conducted.The Conversation

Shireen Daft, Lecturer, Macquarie Law School, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.