Pacific Island countries have long recognised the climate crisis as the greatest threat to their futures. Drawing on the region’s strengths, values and a united Pacific voice, Pacific Island countries have sought to lead by example – making bold national commitments, playing a major role in international negotiations, and holding their bigger neighbours – Australia and New Zealand – to account.
This year’s Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Meeting will mark another important step in the region’s response to the climate crisis, and a key test for Australia and New Zealand’s credibility. It is the first since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s landmark report on limiting warming to 1.5°C, which laid out in stark terms the scale of global action necessary to ensure Pacific Island countries and communities are able to survive and thrive. It comes three months after the Morrison Government was returned to power in the 2019 Australian Federal Election and as both Australia and New Zealand are aiming to renew and strengthen their standing in the region.
For Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, the 50th Pacific Islands Forum marks the start of a crucial 18 month window that will culminate at the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) in 2020. Decisions taken over this period will profoundly affect the lives and prospects of communities worldwide, and in particular the peoples of the Pacific, far into the future. Continuing down the current path risks global heating in excess of 3°C and undermining all the development progress of recent decades.
This year’s Pacific Islands Forum also comes at a time when great powers from China to the UK are stepping up their engagement with the Pacific. The region now faces a greater number of prospective development and security partners, and is determined to chart its own course within this new and more complex landscape. Put simply, if Australia and New Zealand are to remain trusted partners to the region and valued members of the Pacific family, and with that, retain the ability to help shape the region’s future, they must immediately step up their response to the number one priority of Pacific Island countries – climate change.