Why it matters
Case Study: Australia’s Science and Technology for Climate Partnerships (SciTech4Climate)
The SciTech4Climate program is a $5.5million science and technology partnership to support climate resilience in the Indo-Pacific. The program connects leading Australian scientists and climate specialists with development partners in the Indo-Pacific to ensure the region’s response to climate change is supported by the best available science and technological advances.
Through SciTech4Climate, DFAT is partnering with Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO and the Australian National University (ANU), to develop practical actions to adapt to climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the Indo-Pacific. CSIRO and ANU work closely with partner governments, industry and local communities to translate cutting-edge science into novel, locally appropriate solutions to climate challenges. These partnerships help the Pacific to adapt to climate change and build resilience to the challenges ahead.
SciTech4Climate is building strong cooperation with the Pacific to harness science and technology to support climate resilience. It is an example of a successful program that can be built on in the region.
Australia has the potential to develop a maritime consciousness that aligns with the Blue Pacific. Australia has expressed its desire to be a two-ocean power and this should be seen as more than just the ability to project naval power into the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Australia has a huge Exclusive Economic Zone, which should be understood as a responsibility. Major assets like the Great Barrier Reef could be viewed with the same guardianship that is central to the Blue Pacific.
“We reaffirm that climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific and our commitment to progress the implementation of the Paris Agreement”
Boe Declaration on Regional Security, Pacific Islands Forum Leaders' Meeting, Nauru, 2018
The high degree of politicisation of climate change has made cohesive and collaborative engagement difficult. With coal and gas as two of Australia’s major exports, the Australian government has viewed fossil fuel industries as a vital national interest. Australia has been unwilling to plan for the emerging scenario where renewables become the dominant form of global energy consumption.
This has meant that Australia’s economic and political settings have not matched Australia’s foreign policy priorities in the Pacific. The reluctance of successive Australian governments to set ambitious emissions reduction targets has hindered Australia’s diplomatic efforts in the Pacific. Given the importance of these issues to the Pacific, Australia’s domestic energy policy effectively became its foreign policy within the region. There has been a lack of consistency between the adaptation and resilience measures Australia has supported in the Pacific and Australia’s domestic climate policy.
This leads to a danger that measures such as Australia’s “Pacific Step-up” are viewed as lacking diplomatic credibility if perceived to be only in response to China’s increased presence and not a genuine commitment to regional integration. Successive cuts to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have weakened the ability of Australia to engage substantively with the Pacific.
Pacific countries face a large climate finance gap with demand for financing of climate adaptation far exceeding existing opportunities. There is also a lack of transparency and coherence in climate financing. The Green Climate Fund has become the dominant climate fund in the Pacific since it started approving projects in 2015. It has proven difficult for Pacific island countries to directly access financing through this mechanism, with low rates of accreditation and spending. This means that often funding is not getting to the local level in the Pacific.
Community resilience to disasters is weakening. Bigger and longer disaster seasons are challenging communities across the region. There is the danger that with so many natural disasters, there are limits to resilience. Findings suggest that after the third time, people don’t build back. This will require not just rebuilding but imagining new economies and politics that helps build a survival bridge into the future.
Perspectives on climate change, environmental destruction and disasters are not being equally heard, with marginalised voices including women, youth, LGBTQI+, disabled, rural, Indigenous and ethnically diverse people. This can severely reduce the efficacy of mitigation, adaptation and natural disaster recovery efforts, while also increasing or entrenching disadvantage and contributing to higher levels of state and human insecurity.
There is the potential for climate change to overshadow other forms of environmental degradation not directly related to carbon emissions. These include over-fishing, waste disposal, reduction in plastic use, deforestation and environmental rehabilitation. There are extractive industries within the Pacific that are both environmentally and socially fraught. The Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, mass logging in Solomon Islands and the prospect of deep sea mining instigated by Nauru all have local geopolitical effects that threaten regional stability. As with Australia’s extractive industries, sometimes economic calculations can override environmental imperatives. The environment can be seen as a purely economic asset, creating tension between economic and environmental human security.
The vision in practice
The Australian Government changes its declaratory policy on climate, signalling a shift to a new approach. This would include reaffirming the Boe Declaration and Kainaki II Declaration, which both assert that climate change is the single greatest threat to the Pacific region.
International Leadership and Diplomacy
Australia and Pacific island countries co-host a Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting as a demonstration of Australia’s commitment to the targets set by the Paris Agreement, as well as affirmation that Australia is a dedicated member of the Pacific family.
Australia works with Pacific island countries to undertake meaningful collective diplomacy on climate change, working as an ally for climate action on the global stage. It supports the Friends of Climate and Security Group in the United Nations Security Council. This should include issuing a regional declaration at the Pacific Islands Forum calling on all countries to submit nationally determined contributions consistent with limiting warming to 1.5C.
Climate and Energy Policy
Australia announces an ambitious emissions target for 2030, in line with key partners including the United States, Europe, United Kingdom and the G7. Australia adopts climate and energy policies that gives market operators certainty about Australia’s climate ambitions and sends a strong signal to the market that investment in renewables is viable and profitable.
Australia establishes regional targets for decarbonisation in 2030 and 2050 as part of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific. This would involve a timeline to phase out coal as a domestic energy source, as well as a recognition that coal will have a limited lifespan as an export commodity.
Dialogue and Links
Australia establishes an annual discussion within the Pacific (distinct from the Pacific Islands Forum) with a specific climate focus: “a 1.5 Track Dialogue for 1.5 Degrees”.
The relationship with Pacific peoples is a key focus of Australia’s First Nations Foreign Policy.
Australia builds on the good practice relationships that exist between Australia’s climate science organisations and Pacific equivalents – including CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and the Bureau of Meteorology – and through higher education and technical training. With so many projects, there can be a problem of coherence, meaning that there is a potential role for a regional knowledge broker bringing together ad hoc investments into an integrated response. Australia should investigate creating a knowledge bank that brings together and synthesises the data on Australia’s investments in community climate resilience.
Disaster Risk and Response
Australia should conduct a national review of climate risks, following the lead of others including the United States and New Zealand. This should subsequently be extended by collaborating with Pacific island countries and New Zealand on a regional climate risk assessment.
Within these risk assessments Australia should develop a greater understanding of what humanitarianism means in relation to climate change and the increasing impact and frequency of climate related emergencies.
In a climate change world, there will be a concatenation of natural disasters as well as unknown effects on natural systems like growing cycles and fisheries incubation. Australia is already stretched in terms of humanitarian and disaster relief (HADR), including domestic response. Australia needs to build local disaster response capacity given that longer and larger disaster seasons are going to challenge the region. Localisation will be an imperative.
Development has a key role in planning for disaster resilience. When societies have to withstand shock after shock, their resilience depends on equity and inclusion. Societies need to be strong, inclusive and equitable to deal with persistent major weather events and their widespread social knock-on effects.
Defence can promote greater civil-military cooperation and involvement of first responders including fire and emergency services. It should promote greater climate disaster response interoperability between Australia and the Pacific, as has occurred with the FRANZ arrangement. If the Australian Defence Force or any other body develop a standalone disaster preparedness unit, this could be expanded to a regional unit, as has been endorsed by the Pacific Islands Forum, through creation of a new joint disaster response unit between Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Island countries.
Australia can further promote and engage with international frameworks including the Women, Peace and Security Humanitarian Action Compact, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.
Case Study: Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (APMCDRR)
Australia’s hosting of the Asia Pacific Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Brisbane in the second half of 2022 is a good example of Australia leading with international leadership and diplomacy on climate action.
Australia will host a range of ministerial meetings, thematic sessions and partner-led public forums to promote coordination and cooperation and assess regional progress made in the implementation of the Sendai Framework, the global blueprint to reduce disaster risk and losses (United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, September 2022).
The APMCDRR also provides great potential for sharing new technologies for weather prediction, modelling and geo-spatial mapping of hazards developed by Australian institutions such as the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology. It is an opportunity for Australia to showcase these collaborations and share knowledge and learning with Pacific counterparts.
Australia rejoins the Green Climate Fund (GCF) which has become a major funder of climate projects in the region. As well as increased finance, this also provides the opportunity for Australia to advocate for reform to GCF governance as it applies to Pacific island countries. Currently, the preferred ways of working of Pacific countries in relation to climate change, particularly in support of direct access pathways to climate finance, is not well supported by GCF rules and regulation. Australia could use its diplomatic influence and development financing expertise to reform these practices, as it has done with other multilateral institutions working in the Pacific such as the Asian Development Bank. This could be through seconding Australian climate finance experts into the GCF, offering financial and administrative support to Pacific island countries to address regulatory barriers and through subsidising the management costs of GCF access.
Ultimately, given Pacific countries’ huge needs for climate finance, Australia should support a range of financing modalities. This should include the Pacific Resilience Fund recently established by the Pacific Islands Forum, which has a strong focus on community-based resilience and small-scale grants. These are projects which currently fill in the gaps of external funding. There is a role for Australia to help finance this Pacific-led program and more broadly help develop climate financing more suitable to the needs of Pacific island countries, including through the Regional Pacific Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) Hub.
Australia needs to prepare for the future in its migration policies, tackling the problem of climate mobility as a serious issue given the need for people movement to major economies and within the region. Safe migration pathways need to be discussed and a new regional convention of refugees may be needed. The desire to maintain community bonds and culture may require a new model that allows Pacific communities to retain nationhood within Australia’s political structure. Australian leaders should plan for the need to prepare the domestic population for an influx of people from the Pacific.
Loss and Damage
Australia should continue to engage with Pacific island countries in the emerging debate calling for reparation for loss and damage caused by carbon emitters. There are likely to be continuing calls as a question of climate justice. With outstanding issues following the Glasgow Conference of the Parties (COP), there is an opportunity for Australia-Pacific collaboration to be part of this debate.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute
Australian Red Cross
ANU Department of Pacific Affairs
La Trobe Asia
Macquarie Pasifika Students Association
ANU Crawford School of Public Policy
Monash Gender, Peace & Security Centre
Griffith Asia Institute
Melissa Conley Tyler
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons license. You can reprint or republish with attribution.
You can cite this paper as: Asia-Pacific Development, Diplomacy & Defence Dialogue, What does it look like for Australia to be an effective climate ally with the Pacific (Canberra 2022): www.asiapacific4d.com
Photo on this page: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
This paper is the product of the Asia-Pacific Development, Diplomacy & Defence Dialogue’s inaugural program, ‘Shaping a shared future — deepening Australia’s influence in Southeast Asia and the Pacific’, funded by the Australian Civil-Military Centre.