Pacific Island nations will no longer stand for Australia’s inaction on climate change


Michael O’Keefe, La Trobe University

The Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Tuvalu this week has ended in open division over climate change. Australia ensured its official communique watered down commitments to respond to climate change, gaining a hollow victory.

Traditionally, communiques capture the consensus reached at the meeting. In this case, the division on display between Australia and the Pacific meant the only commitment is to commission yet another report into what action needs to be taken.

The cost of Australia’s victory is likely to be great, as it questions the sincerity of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s commitment to “step up” engagement in the Pacific.




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Australia’s stance on climate change has become untenable in the Pacific. The inability to meet Pacific Island expectations will erode Australia’s influence and leadership credentials in the region, and provide opportunities for other countries to grow influence in the region.

An unprecedented show of dissent

When Morrison arrived in Tuvalu, he was met with an uncompromising mood. In fact, the text of an official communique was only finished after 12 hours of pointed negotiations.

While the “need for urgent, immediate actions on the threats and challenges of climate change”, is acknowledged, the Pacific was looking for action, not words.

What’s more, the document reaffirmed that “strong political leadership to advance climate change action” was needed, but leadership from Australia was sorely missing. It led Tuvaluan Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga to note:

I think we can say we should’ve done more work for our people.

Presumably, he would have hoped Australia could be convinced to take more climate action.

In an unprecedented show of dissent, smaller Pacific Island countries produced the alternative Kainaki II Declaration. It captures the mood of the Pacific in relation to the existential threat posed by climate change, and the need to act decisively now to ensure their survival.

And it details the commitments needed to effectively address the threat of climate change. It’s clear nothing short of transformational change is needed to ensure their survival, and there is rising frustration in Australia’s repeated delays to take effective action.

Australia hasn’t endorsed the alternative declaration and Canberra has signalled once and for all that compromise on climate change is not possible. This is not what Pacific leaders hoped for and will come at a diplomatic cost to Australia.




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Canberra can’t buy off the Pacific

Conflict had already begun brewing in the lead up to the Pacific Islands Forum. The Pacific Islands Development Forum – the brainchild of the Fijian government, which sought a forum to engage with Pacific Island Nations without the influence of Australia and New Zealand – released the the Nadi Bay Declaration in July this year.

This declaration called on coal producing countries like Australia to cease all production within a decade.

But it’s clear Canberra believes compromise of this sort on climate change would undermine Australia’s economic growth and this is the key stumbling block to Australia answering its Pacific critics with action.

As Sopoaga said to Morrison:

You are concerned about saving your economy in Australia […] I am concerned about saving my people in Tuvalu.

And a day before the meeting, Canberra announced half a billion dollars to tackle climate change in the region. But it received a lukewarm reception from the Pacific.

The message is clear: Canberra cannot buy off the Pacific. In part, this is because Pacific Island countries have new options, especially from China, which has offered Pacific island countries concessional loans.




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China is becoming an attractive alternate partner

As tension built at the Pacific Island Forum meeting, New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters argued there was a double standard with respect to the treatment of China on climate change.

China is the world’s largest emitter of climate change gasses, but if there is a double standard it’s of Australia’s making.

Australia purports to be part of the Pacific family that can speak and act to protect the interests of Pacific Island countries in the face of China’s “insidious” attempts to gain influence through “debt trap” diplomacy. This is where unsustainable loans are offered with the aim of gaining political advantage.

But countering Chinese influence in the Pacific is Australia’s prime security interest, and is a secondary issue for the Pacific.

But unlike Australia, China has never claimed the moral high ground and provides an attractive alternative partner, so it will likely gain ground in the battle for influence in the Pacific.

For the Pacific Island Forum itself, open dissent is a very un-Pacific outcome. Open dissent highlights the strains in the region’s premier intergovernmental organisation.

Australia and (to a lesser extent) New Zealand’s dominance has often been a source of criticism, but growing confidence among Pacific leaders has changed diplomatic dynamics forever.




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This new pacific diplomacy has led Pacific leaders to more steadfastly identify their security interests. And for them, the need to respond to climate change is non-negotiable.

If winning the geopolitical contest with China in Pacific is Canberra’s priority, then far greater creativity will be needed as meeting the Pacific half way on climate change is a prerequisite for success.The Conversation

Michael O’Keefe, Head of Department, Politics and Philosophy, La Trobe University

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

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Students striking for climate action are showing the exact skills employers look for


Karena Menzie-Ballantyne, CQUniversity Australia

On March 15 2019 thousands of students across Australia will skip school and join the global strike for climate action. This is the second time students have taken to the streets to demand more government action on climate change. Last time they did so, in November 2018, the federal resources minister, Matt Canavan, told them:

The best thing you’ll learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole queue. Because that’s what your future life will look like, up in a line asking for a handout, not actually taking charge for your life and getting a real job.

Politicians are up in arms about tomorrow’s protest too. New South Wales is just over a week away from a state election where climate change is a key issue. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has slammed as “appalling” comments made by Opposition Leader Michael Daley in support of the strike.

Such attitudes do worse than just dismissing the students’ voices and their message of urgency. They fly in the face of international research and the aims of Australia’s own curriculum.

By seeking to understand a global issue such as climate change, taking action and clearly articulating their perspective, the students are demonstrating the skills, values and attitudes the curriculum states should constitute the aim of education. These are also the attributes employers look for.

Confident individuals, informed citizens

The Australian curriculum is based on the Melbourne Declaration on Goals for Young Australians, signed in 2008 by all state and territory ministers. Its second goal is to graduate students who are “successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens”.

To help achieve this, the Australian curriculum includes a civics and citizenship strand in its humanities and social science subject. This encourages an inquiry-based approach, presenting students with multiple perspectives and empowering them to reach their own conclusions.




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The curriculum also has three cross-curriculum priorities, which address contemporary issues such as sustainability, and seven general capabilities. The Australian curriculum shape paper describes the general capabilities as “21st-century skills”, designed to foster critical and creative thinking, ethical understanding and personal and social capability.

A 2014 review of the Australian curriculum concluded with overwhelming support to not only keep but further develop general capabilities that reflect 21st-century skills.

Canavan’s dole-queue comments also contradict research that identifies these general capabilities, sometimes described as “soft skills”, as the desired graduate attributes sought by employers in Australia and across the world. These skills are also acknowledged as equipping students for contemporary, transitory career patterns that require high levels of communication, mobility and critical and ethical thinking.

Addressing global sustainability goals

When the students marched in 2018, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said they should be doing “more learning in schools and less activism”. But international research clearly shows that, by preparing for and participating in this strike, students are learning the skills of active citizenship, which they will carry into their adult life.

They are learning how to be the type of citizen we need to achieve the global sustainability goals. They are learning how to work together to effect change.




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Australian students joining the movement, started by 16-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg, also reflects research showing young people have no faith in politicians and the political system. This is why they are taking direct, grassroots approaches to political, social and environmental issues.

The students’ website, rallying the support of their peers, explains their reasoning for walking out of their classrooms:

In Australia, education is viewed as immensely important, and a key way to make a difference in the world. But simply going to school isn’t doing anything about climate change. And it doesn’t seem that our politicians are doing anything.

By making this choice, students are demonstrating their worldview and understanding of contemporary global issues, their ability to think critically and examine problems, to manage complexity, to communicate and work effectively with others, as well as values and attitudes that focus on the common good beyond their own self-interest. And they are taking action.

In other words, they are displaying all the elements of global competence, as identified by UNESCO and the OECD. In doing so they are fulfilling the Melbourne Declaration’s goal and acting as “active and informed citizens” of both their local and global communities.The Conversation

Karena Menzie-Ballantyne, Lecturer in Education, CQUniversity Australia

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

The terror of climate change is transforming young people’s identity


Blanche Verlie, RMIT University

Today, at least 50 rallies planned across Australia are expected to draw thousands of students who are walking out of school to protest climate change inaction.

These Australian students join children from over 82 countries who are striking to highlight systemic failure to address climate change.




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But the strikes represent more than frustration and resistance. They are evidence of an even bigger process of transformation. My research investigates how young people’s sense of self, identity, and existence is being fundamentally altered by climate change.

Canaries in the coalmine

Striking children are experiencing “existential whiplash”, caught between two forces. One is a dominant culture driven by fossil fuel consumption that emphasises individual success, encapsulated by Resources Minister Matt Canavan’s remarks that striking students will never get a “real job”:

The best thing you’ll learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole queue. Because that’s what your future life will look like […] not actually taking charge for your life and getting a real job.

On the other hand is the mounting evidence that climate change will make parts of the planet inhospitable to human (and other) life, and fundamentally change our way of life in the future.

Children are up to date with the facts: The Earth is currently experiencing its 6th mass extinction; Australia has just had its hottest summer on record; and experts warn we have just 11 years left to ensure we avoid the misery of exceeding 1.5 degrees of planetary warming.




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Meanwhile many Australian adults have been living what sociologist Kari Norgaard terms a “double reality”: explicitly acknowledging that climate change is real, while continuing to live as though it is not. But as climatic changes intensify and interrupt our business-as-usual lifestyles, many more Australians are likely to experience the climate trauma that school strikers are grappling with.

Greta Thunberg’s speech to UN Climate Change COP24 conference.

Climate challenged culture

Confronting the realities of climate change can lead to overwhelming anxiety and grief, and of course, for those of us in high carbon societies, guilt. This can be extremely uncomfortable. These feelings arise partly because climate change challenges our dominant cultural narratives, assumptions and values, and thus, our sense of self and identity. Climate change challenges the beliefs that:

  • humans are, or can be, separate from the non-human world
  • individual humans have significant control over the world and their lives
  • if you work hard, you will have a bright future
  • your elected representatives care about you
  • adults generally have children’s best interests at heart and can or will act in accordance with that
  • if you want to be a “good person” you as an individual can simply choose to act ethically.

Faced with these challenges, it can seem easier in the short term to turn away than to try to respond. But the short term is not an option for young people.

Young people around the world are demanding action.
Gustave Deghilage/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

A sign of the times

Striking students are calling out that simply standing by means being complicit in climate change. The school strikers, and those who support them, are deeply anguished about what a business-as-usual future might hold for them and others.

Striking students’ signs proclaim “no graduation on a dead planet” and “we won’t die of old age, we will die from climate change”. This is not hyperbole but a genuine engagement with what climate change means for their lives, as well as their deaths.

Notably, they are openly discussing and promoting engagement with climate distress as a means of inspiring action. As Greta Thunberg — who started the school strikes for climate — said in January:

I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.

They know certain possibilities have already been stolen from them by the older generations. Rather than trying to hold onto dominant cultural narratives about their future, striking students are letting them go and crafting alternatives. They are enduring the pain of the climate crisis, while labouring to generate desirable and possible, though always uncertain, futures.

By connecting with other concerned young people across the world, this movement is creating a more collective and ecologically attuned identity.

They are both more ambitious and humble than our dominant (non)responses to climate change. This is palpable in signs like “Mother Nature does not need us; We need Mother Nature” and “Seas are rising, so are we”.

What will eventually happen – in terms of both cultural and climatic change – is of course, unknowable. But it is promising that children are already forging new identities and cultures that may have a chance of survival on our finite blue planet.




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As adults, we would do well to recognise the necessity of facing up to the most grotesque elements of climate change. Perhaps then we too may step up to the challenge of cultural transformation.The Conversation

Blanche Verlie, Associate Lecturer, RMIT University

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