Keynote Address | Rt Hon Enele Sopoaga PC

Enele Sopoaga speaking at the Climate Integrity Summit 2024
Rt Hon Enele Sopoaga delivering the Keynote Address at the Climate Integrity Summit 2024


Climate integrity is a critical issue for a small atoll nation like Tuvalu, I need not remind people that Tuvalu is one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change with the highest points above sea level for the entire country being four meters. But our vulnerability should not be a bargaining chip for regional security issues.

Rt Hon Mr Enele S Sopoaga PC, Former Prime Minister of Tuvalu addressed the Australia Institute’s Climate Integrity Summit on 20 March 2024.

Talofa, Mauri, Bula Vinaka, Kommol tata…and of course – how are you, mate?

We came here in 1988 as young diplomats from the Pacific and then at the airport when we first arrived, our colleague from Kiribati, a young diplomat, was asked, did you arrive to-day? And he said, “I didn’t come to die, I came to study here in Australia.”

Well, let me add my respect and honour to the custodians of the lands, the chiefs of the lands, and also the VIPs and dignitaries who are here, including my colleague Excellency President, Anote Tong of Kiribati.

Thank you all to the champions of climate change who are here.

I want to thank the Australia Institute for inviting me to speak at this very important event.

The more Australia digs up, the more uncertain Tuvalu’s future becomes

Climate integrity is a critical issue for a small atoll nation like Tuvalu. I need not remind people that Tuvalu is one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change with the highest points above sea level for the entire country being four meters.

But our vulnerability should not be a bargaining chip for regional security issues.

This is something I will come back to later on in my remarks. We have always enjoyed good relations with Australia, but this relationship becomes more and more strained with every day that passes.

Our future is being undermined by Australia’s climate change policy or more correctly – its fossil fuel export policy.

The continued mining and export of coal and gas by Australia creates a death warrant for Tuvalu.

It’s that simple.

Tuvalu and many small island countries like Tuvalu – Kiribati, Marshall Islands, and the like in the Pacific and other parts of the world. So, the more Australia digs up fossil fuels, the more uncertain Tuvalu’s future becomes.

I understand that emissions, as we just heard from Dr. Richard, continuing to mine in Australia, which is exported and burnt overseas, were almost double the nation’s domestic greenhouse gas footprint in 2020.

So, while Australia pretends to be doing something about reducing its emissions within its own borders, it is exporting emissions at an enormous rate. I of course understand that the Australian government is taking this in the interest of generating revenues for its own economy.

We appreciate that.

I understand the coal burnt overseas released 895 million megatons of CO2 into the atmosphere with 460 megatons of that coming from coal used in power stations.

This is irresponsible, foolish, and shortsighted.

I recall confronting the then Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison at the Pacific Island Leaders Forum held in Tuvalu in 2020. We needed a clear signal from the Pacific that the continued mining of coal was unacceptable and threatened the future of the Pacific Island countries.

Prime Minister Morrison would not accept any language referring to the phasing out of coal.

This was despite calls from all Pacific Island leaders, including the New Zealand Prime Minister, to call for a ban on the export of coal. Sadly, this contempt for the interest of the Pacific Island countries continues today.

Very little has changed.

Enele Sopoaga speaking at the Climate Integrity Summit 2024

Even though we have a new government, new coal mines continue to be approved. It seems therefore that the fossil fuel industry has total control of Australia’s economic and foreign policy. While Australia pretends to be good friends with the Pacific, it continues to export coal and gas.

Australia is dealing, in our future to odds, to our demise. This is not just a concern for the Pacific. It affects the rest of the world. People all over the world are suffering from floods and droughts.

A recent report by the United Nations Women and the UN DESA says that between 2000 and 2019, flooding events globally cost $650 billion in economic losses affecting 1.5 billion people and resulting in over 100,000 people deaths.

Make no mistake about this. This is climate change.

It is happening now, right now. Not sometime in the future.

Australia’s exported missions contribute to this, including the people in our poor island countries in the Pacific.

Does the Australian government factor these global disasters into its revenue estimates from coal exports? Of course it doesn’t.

Australia is undermining Tuvalu’s sovereignty

Let me now turn to Australia’s response to the harm it is creating for Tuvalu.

Last year, the previous government in Tuvalu signed on to a security pact with the Australian government entitled Falepili.

In all my years of politics and negotiations in the United Nations, I have never seen anything so brazen, so disrespectful as this agreement is.

It was a secret deal struck out between the two – the previous Tuvalu Prime Minister and the Australian Prime Minister – for a small migration entitlement that is being presented in the deal, Tuvalu was being asked to hand over its sovereignty to Australia.

It basically said that before Tuvalu entered into any security agreement, it had to get Australia’s approval first.

This is neocolonialism at its worst.

It is disrespectful of Tuvalu’s national interests, its sovereign interests, cultural interest, and a slight on Tuvalu’s ability to make strategic decisions on its own.

It was shameful bullying by the Australian government.

Of course, this type of agreement is not reciprocated by Australia – was Tuvalu consulted, or any other Pacific Island countries, or small island countries, ever consulted when Australia signed AUKUS?

Of course, it wasn’t. They were not.

This is despite the fact that Australia has agreed to buy nuclear submarines or powered submarines rather, that would travel through our Pacific waters near our island countries, near our island countries.

No nuclear in the Pacific

The Pacific, of course, as you all know, has a long and tragic history around nuclear weapons.

We were the testing ground for nuclear bombs by the United States, the French, and of course the British, the United Kingdom.

Allowing nuclear submarines to travel through the Pacific Ocean and waters flies in the face of this sad history and concern about nuclear weapons. Of course, we will never be told whether these nuclear-powered submarines will be carrying weapons on the ships.

While I’m on the subject of nuclear, I understand the Australian opposition is promoting the idea of nuclear power in Australia. I understand that powerful right-wing think tanks are behind this proposal. I’m sure they’re not here.

This makes no sense. It’s a fool’s paradise to believe that nuclear power is economical and sustainable for the world.


Throughout the world, the legacy of nuclear power stations and irradiated material that is left behind long after these power stations have passed their use-by date.

And we have classic examples in the Marshall Islands, in the Bikini Atoll of the Marshall Islands.

The people are still denied the right to their culture to come back and enjoy their livelihoods on their atolls because of nuclear.

And of course, as we have seen with Chernobyl and Fukushima, the legacy and toxicity of nuclear power will live with us for many, many generations to come. We are already suffering the release of irradiated water after the Fukushima disaster.

Renewable energy is the way forward

Let us learn from our mistakes. Let us learn from our mistakes.

Let me finish by saying that I’m heartened of course, that some members of the Australian parliament, who I believe are also present in the room, see the folly of continuing with the fossil fuel economy.

Thank you very much for your leadership.

They know that renewable energy is the way forward. It makes sense for Australia, and it makes sense for the Pacific and gives us hope in the Pacific by your leadership in Australia.

Thank you very much indeed and of course to the Australia Institute through this type of engagement. Thank you very much.

We cannot continue to have lost lives in the Pacific, in the world, because of climate change.

We in the Pacific, we want a future in the Pacific and not in some refugee camps in Australia – I’m sorry to say that.

Let us turn this ship around, this canoe around on which we are all travelling together, and stop the madness, the export of fossil fields, and move to a sustainable future.

This is what climate integrity is all about. Thank you very much and have great success in the summit.

— Rt Hon Enele Sopoaga PC, Former Prime Minister of Tuvalu at the Climate Integrity Summit 2024

Between the Lines Newsletter

The biggest stories and the best analysis from the team at the Australia Institute, delivered to your inbox every fortnight.

You might also like

Highlights from the Climate Integrity Summit 2024

2023 has shown us a planet on the brink of collapse. Cyclones, heatwaves, catastrophic floods, fires and landslides have killed people, destroyed ecosystems and decimated communities. And yet Australia is still yet to repair all the homes lost in the Black Summer bushfires of 2020 or the devastating Lismore floods of 2017 and 2022. No