Palm trees and palm-offs: Australia’s climate action and distraction in the Pacific

by Rod Campbell

As Fiji prepares to chair climate talks in late 2017, Pacific leaders are gathering in Suva to consider what policies to push for. One should be a moratorium on new coal mines.

Australian government ministers are actively promoting subsidies to the world’s largest new coal mine, Adani’s Carmichael project. When Pacific leaders have called for a moratorium on new coal, Australian politicians and media have been forced to pay attention. Support for a moratorium has come from leaders such as Fiji’s Prime Minister Bainimarama, former Kirabati President Anote Tong and Marshal Islands President Hilda Heine, and is mentioned in the Suva declaration.

Pacific leaders should realise that Australia’s aid budget is at its lowest ever level, just 0.2 percent of national income. Just 2 percent of Australia’s aid goes to Pacific climate aid, around $75 million per year. Australia’s contribution to running the Suva talks will take up 8 percent of this year’s spending on climate. 

Australia’s climate aid is not new aid spending. It comes at the expense of other parts of the aid budget.

Australia’s generosity towards its climate change-causing coal industry is in stark contrast to its miserly contributions to the Pacific. The coal industry receives tax breaks worth over $1 billion per year. The Adani mine alone is looking to receive a $1 billion subsidised loan and royalty breaks worth $320 million. 

Perhaps surprisingly, coal is not a major source of revenue for Australian governments, nor is it a big employer. Federal tax and state royalties from the coal industry total just 2% of federal government revenues and employs less than one in two hundred Australians. Australia could introduce a moratorium on new coal mines with minimal economic impact.

Pacific leaders should understand the context of Australia’s spending on climate issues and that our current government actually subsidising more coal and climate change. A moratorium on new coal mines would be a clear step towards climate action, and one that works in conjunction with emissions reductions in the Paris pledges.

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