Australia “needs to be at the table” on climate change

Last Tuesday, the Government of Australia released its national budget, with no more contributions to the Green Climate Fund included, and a footnote to say their last contribution was in 2018.

The Green Climate Fund is a multilateral climate financing mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to help developing countries adapt to and mitigate against the effects of climate change.

Last year, Prime Minister Scott Morrision told radio station 2GB he would no longer “spend money on global climate conferences and all that sort of nonsense", and it appears his position has not changed.

Marshal Islands President Dr Hilda Heine expressed her disappointment in the decision on Twitter on Monday, calling for leadership and solidarity on climate change.

“Deeply disappointing that Australia set to stop contributing to the Green Climate Fund,” she wrote.

“The Pacific is particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts and the challenges we face are only set to increase. We look to our regional partners for leadership and solidarity. Not this.”

And in a statement, Oxfam Australia said the 2019-2020 budget was a “catastrophic failure of leadership in the face of the climate crisis – which is out of step with a majority of Australians – and growing inequality and it undermines the future of our Pacific neighbours”.

Director of the Pacific Islands Program of Australian think thank The Lowy Institute said while the GCF is known for its governance issues, the answer is not to pack in and walk away.

“The Pacific Islands have a right to be frustrated. They are on the front lines of climate change and Australia is often on the wrong side of the negotiating table ,” said Jonathan Pryke.

He said despite ongoing “teething issues” at the GCF affecting Australia’s decision, the current government has been split on climate change policy and this is just one more example.

“It’s really the elephant in the room, that we are in this Pacific Step Up yet climate change is a major sticking point in international fora. It’s very challenging for our relationships in the Pacific,” said Mr Pryke.

A spokesperson of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said the development assistance budget focuses on the needs of Pacific partners, especially in the areas of climate change and disaster resilience.

“Australia remains on track to meet our $1 billion climate finance commitment over five years from 2015-16 to 2019-20,” the spokesperson said.

“As part of this, the Government has committed more than A$300 million over four years to 2019-20 on climate and disaster resilience support to the Pacific.”

“Australia is not planning to provide further funding to the Green Climate Fund. There are fundamental challenges with the GCF’s governance and operational model which are impacting its effectiveness.”

But Mr Pryke believes international cooperation in funds like the GCF are meaningful ways to combat climate change, without “reinventing the wheel.”

Australia is a major party to the GCF, having invest AUD$19.2 million (T$35.6 million) to the GCF in 2018, and a total of AUD$187 million (T$ 346.9 million) since 2015. 

It could do more inside the fund attempting to help fix governance issues, than walking away from it, said Mr Pryke.

“The GCF needs to be working in the Pacific so we would do better sorting the problem in it than out,” he said.

But with an election set for May 18th, the decision could still change. 

Shadow foreign minister Penny Wong of the Labour Party said “it goes without saying” Labour would “be willing to work with” multilateral organisations including the Green Climate Fund to combat global warming, Climate Change News Karl Mathiesen reports.

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