Foreign minister concedes Australia ‘neglected responsibility’ on climate change

By Melissa Coade

May 30, 2022

Penny Wong
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong speaks during a keynote address at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. (Australian Dept. of Foreign Affairs and Trade via AP)

Penny Wong has acknowledged Australia previously ‘disrespected’ the struggle of Pacific nations as they grappled with the consequences of climate change in a speech to the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Secretariat on Thursday. 

The new foreign minister told the 18-member forum she acknowledged previous Australian governments had ignored the clear and consistent message from its Pacific family of the climate change threat.

“Whether it manifests in rising sea levels in Pacific Island countries, or in disastrous bushfires and catastrophic flooding back at home in Australia, we can see that climate change is happening across the Pacific family,” Wong said.

“I want to assure you that we have heard you.”

Citing the PIF’s Boe Declaration on Regional Security from 2018, and her time as climate minister under the previous Labor government, Wong said she recognised Australia’s Pacific neighbours regarded climate change as ‘the greatest threat’ to its people. 

The livelihoods, security and wellbeing of Pacific nations could not be ignored and mattered just as much to Australian citizens, she added. And the new government would honour that mandate by legislating the reduction of carbon emissions by 43% by 2030 and achieving net-zero by 2050.

“As our election last weekend showed — Australians understand the imperative of acting on climate change,” Wong said. 

“There is a huge groundswell of support for taking real action on the climate crisis in Australia and the new government is firmly committed to making it happen.”

As part of the Labor government’s plan to ‘end the climate wars’, prime minister Anthony Albanese will transition the country to a low carbon economy, and grow the renewables in the National Energy Market to 82%. 

Wong also confirmed that plans were underway for Australia to submit a new Nationally Determined Contribution to the UNFCCC.

As for her government’s commitment to working in partnership with the Pacific to address climate change, the foreign minister thanked the nations of the Pacific family for its stewardship of the environment. She said Australia would stand with its neighbours, in good times and bad. Wong added the assistance Australia received from Pacific nations during recent natural disasters such as local flooding and Black Summer bushfires was what families did to help each other in times of crisis. 

“This is a different Australian government. We will stand shoulder to shoulder with our Pacific family in response to this crisis,” Wong said. 

“We understand that we need to work together like never before — for our peoples and for generations to come.”

Australia has announced a new Australia-Pacific Climate Infrastructure Partnership to support climate-related infrastructure and energy projects in Pacific countries and Timor-Leste. And Wong vowed to take steps to regain an international reputation for being a leader on climate change. 

To this end, a new Australian ambassador for climate change role will be created and the Labor government will hold talks with Pacific Island countries about a proposal to co-host a climate change conference with the UN Conference of the Parties.

“The triple challenges of climate, COVID and strategic contest will challenge us in new ways.

“We understand that the security of any one Pacific family member rests on security for all. We have a collective responsibility as we face these challenges to secure our region’s interests today and in the future,” the foreign minister said. 

Moving forward, Wong promised members of the Pacific family transparency in their relationship with Australia. Supporting the growth, development, long-term security and stability would define Australia’s actions in the region, she said. Defence and maritime cooperation, and quality, climate-resilient infrastructure were two ways Australia’s objectives would be met.

“Nothing will change our geography, our proximity. Nothing will change the fact that our future is intertwined,” Wong said.

“But as I have outlined, we will draw on all elements of our relationships to achieve our shared interests in building a stable and prosperous region, where rules and sovereignty are respected.”

China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, is currently undertaking his own diplomatic tour of the Pacific, with the goal of securing a cooperation pact with Pacific Island states. The deal being floated covers cooperation with China on policing, cybersecurity, trade, fisheries and development projects. 


China’s ambassador to Australia meets Penny Wong to discuss bilateral relations

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