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The inaction and recalcitrance of Australia’s federal politicians is making Kiribati despair
By Anote Tong, former president of Kiribati
A new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change paints a picture of what the world will look like if it gets 1.5°C, and 2°C, hotter than pre-industrial levels.
Half a degree of warming may seem trifling but, for my country, Kiribati, these fractional figures are a matter of life and death.
Our whole nation is only two metres above sea level, and the report shows that the difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of warming is several centimetres of sea level rise. Given that we are already feeling the impacts of rising water, every millimetre counts.
Increasingly frequent king tides and storm surges, floods and longer droughts are new, unwelcome additions to our way of life on Kiribati.
Sea level rise is turning our freshwater resources salty, rendering the land unable to grow staple crops such as coconut and taro, and eating away our shoreline.
We are being told that we may have to abandon our islands, the places where our ancestors have been buried, where our children have a home and an identity.
If this disastrous outcome comes to pass, my people will need a place of safety to move to. Rather than be regarded as “climate refugees” – a term that has no definition or status in the international legal system – I seek migration with dignity for my people.
As we reflect on the frightening future ahead of us, there is no escaping the deep injustice of the fact that, despite our negligible contributions to greenhouse gas emissions, we are on the frontline of climate change consequences.
Making matters worse is the fact that instead of heeding the IPCC’s recommendation for urgent and deep emissions cuts to make sure we don’t exceed 1.5°C of warming, industrialised nations such as Australia are doing virtually nothing to solve the problem.
It’s bad enough that the United States, one of the world’s largest polluters, has pulled out of the Paris agreement. Now, there are rumblings that Australian politicians want to do the same.
Already, Australia has one of the highest per capita emissions in the world, and its national greenhouse gas emissions are still rising. The country is twiddling its thumbs as the window of opportunity to keep the people of the Pacific – and Australia – safe slams shut.
Historically, many in the Pacific have regarded Australia as a big brother to our region, and looked to the country for leadership.
The inspiring advocacy of ordinary Australians, businesses, unions, city governments, state governments, churches and NGOs gives us hope that Kiribati could have a fighting chance at survival.
But the inaction and recalcitrance of federal politicians makes us despair.
As we witness their indifference to the reality of climate change, this longstanding friendly relationship is giving way to disillusionment and disappointment. We believe Australia is failing in its duty as a regional leader.
The implications of this for Australia’s foreign policy are immense, as the inroads made by Chinese diplomacy have shown.
Australia must play a more constructive role. Ceasing to approve new coalmines would be a good place to start. It must also adopt obvious solutions such as renewable energy, which will help bring its emissions down to zero.
It’s not just us that stands to gain from this. In Australia, supporting these solutions will also create new, green jobs, and unlock billions of dollars in economic opportunities.
And your own country, which has been ravaged by bushfires and droughts over the past few months, will also be safer from climate change impacts.
Ultimately, as I head to Australia later this month for a series of public lectures and meetings, I hope to leave the Australian people and politicians with one simple message. The future of Kiribati, Australia and the region is in your hands. It’s time to act.
Anote Tong is the former president of Kiribati
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN/PACNEWS
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