Flat White

Lies, leeches and Chinese whispers: one not so enchanted summit

18 August 2019

5:39 PM

18 August 2019

5:39 PM

What was that Malcolm Turnbull once said about “the prime minister who broke the nation’s heart”? Whatever the case, he wasn’t talking about ScoMo and Tonga. Not that facts stood in the way of some inventive reporting over the weekend, even – bedwetting conspiracists please note – from the more junior members of the elite Rupertian Guard:

A Prime Minister has been brought to tears over Australia’s stalled efforts around climate change.

Wrapping up the Pacific Island Forum held this week in Tuvalu, the tiny nation’s Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga said the international leaders’ meeting had been emotional.

“The Prime Minister of Tonga actually cried, in the retreat, did you know that?” Mr Sopoaga said in a press conference alongside Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“The leader of Tonga actually shed tears in front of the leaders, because of the passion referring to the presentation from the two young warriors of climate change the other day.”

So no, not really, but it makes a good copy.

The background:

Scott Morrison stared down Jacinda Ardern and 16 other leaders at the Pacific Island Forum last night, refusing to back a statement that would obligate Australia to end coalmining and go carbon-neutral by 2050.

The Prime Minister was left ­isolated, forcing a “qualification” to the final forum declaration that would otherwise have unanimously agreed to demands by small island nations for “an immediate global ban” on new coalmines and coal-fired power plants.

The forum host, Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga, identified Australia as the outlier, saying he was disappointed with the final communiqué.

“I think we can say we should have done more work for our ­people,” Mr Sopoaga said.

But Mr Morrison declared: “I’m accountable to the Australian ­people, that’s who I’m accountable for.”

The Pacific region has got another $500 million commitment from Australia for a fund to help the small island nations deal with environmental challenges. Of course, it’s never enough. Neither is it about coal mining and coal power – Australia could disappear off the map tomorrow and it would make a zero impact on our Pacific neighbours. Jacinda Ardern, the former president of the International Union of Socialist Youth and the current New Zealand PM, told Scott Morrison that Australia had “to answer to the Pacific” for its stance. It actually doesn’t, but thanks for grandstanding, Jacinda.

If climate change did not exist as a political issue, we would have to invent it. It’s such a God-sent for rent-seekers of the world. After a few decades of pouring more than a trillion dollars in aid into the developing world, the West is fatigued with compassion; even more so, since with the exception of a few notable achievements, such as the virtual elimination of several deadly diseases, which used to cut a swath through the tropics, there is preciously little to show for all the money. Most of it seems to have been proverbially pissed against the wall of corruption, mismanagement, undercapacity and incapability.


It’s getting more and more difficult to convince the taxpaying electorates to keep sending more money to achieve the objectives that never seem to be achieved. But climate change is so hot right now, if you excuse the pun; it’s a relatively new emergency, as opposed to say the AIDS epidemic, and the guilt factor in the developed world is still correspondingly high. One of the more expected effects of global warming is that it opens wider the Western wallets, and so it will be milked for all its worth.

In reality, 80 per cent of islands and atolls in archipelagos like Tuvalu or Kiribati (both the self-proclaimed poster children of the climate change-generated rising sea levels) have either stayed the same or grown in size since the 1950s. The actual sea-level movements, as measured across 12 Pacific nations since 1992 by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, wary considerably from place to place, with the average sea rise over a quarter of a century period of some 3 centimetres. Just last month, a new study by New Zealand and British scientists suggests that subjected to rising sea levels and severe storms, islands adapt by accumulating sand and coral matter and changing their shapes and vertical profiles. In other words, no one is drowning.

But don’t let that get between the Pacific governments and the Western purses.

Meanwhile, China is finding ever new ways to be helpful:

China has told Pacific nations it recognises the “legitimate demands” of small island states for tackling climate change, and called on developed countries to “earnestly carry out their obligations” under the Paris agreement.

China’s Special Envoy to the Pacific, Ambassador Wang Xuefeng, told the Pacific Island Forum in Tuvalu today that “no matter how the international situation evolves, China will always be a good friend, partner and brother of Pacific Island countries”.

“China believes that all countries, big or small, are equals,” he said…

Mr Wang told PIF members that China backed “equitable global climate governance regime”.

“As the largest developing country in the world, China always attaches great importance to the special concerns and legitimate demands of small island countries in combating climate change,” he said.

That translates roughly to “we support your right to shake the developed countries for money, while we as a developing country ourselves keep growing our own emissions”. This status allows China to have the best of both worlds: all the rhetorical privileges without responsibility. China’s emissions have increased by more than 50 per cent in a decade to 2014 and continue to increase; that’s one country that’s definitely not signing up to any “immediate global ban” on new coal mines and coal-fired power plants. Though it would be funny if the Pacific nations asked, since if you believe the Pacific narrative, the Chinese are drowning more islands than the Australians.

Of course no one in the Pacific will say boo to China, since Beijing has committed over $6 billion to the region since 2011 (only behind Australia’s $10 billion). Unlike Australia, China’s is not the feeding hand one bites. A significant portion of China’s development aid is in the form concessional loans, for which the Pacific nations, but not just them, have developed an unhealthy appetite on the account of few attached strings compared to Western loans – concessional loans, again unlike Western loans, have to be repaid no-ifs-and-buts, but in exchange for some temporary relief the Chinese government can enmesh itself even deeper with the local politics and economy.

And so, the Tongan PM’s tears contribute to sea rises, Australia’s climate change funds contribute to our government debt, and China’s actions contribute to regional instability. Poor ScoMo would have rather avoided this tropical escape.

Arthur Chrenkoff blogs at The Daily Chrenk, where this piece also appears.

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