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Australia cops flak from Pacific for climate neglect (Interview with Bertarim Rimon)

ABC RADIO AUSTRALIA Updated Tue Jul 28, 2009 5:23pm AEST

The Australian government has rejected criticism that it's doing too little on climate change in the Pacific, pointing to its international and regional efforts since coming to office almost two years ago.

Presenter: Linda Mottram
Speaker: Bertarim Rimon, Kiribati government's climate change adaptation program; Richard Denniss, executive director, The Australia Institute; Andrew Hewett, executive director, Oxfam Australia; Duncan Kerr, Australian Parliamentary Secretary for the Pacific

Listen: Windows Media

RIMON: Lord God we thank you for your gift of life, we thank you for our atoll islands (fades)...

MOTTRAM: At a climate change conference in Canberra last December, Bertarim Rimon, from the Kiribati government's climate change adaptation program, delivered up this prayer.

RIMON: ... but now lord god we realise the real danger is approaching us. We begin to question your love and plan for us as your children.

MOTTRAM: The prayer is traditional but in recent years has been adapted to underline the sense of crisis many in Kiribati feel as climate change effects become more and more real.

And though Australia's Labor government promises to help its Pacific neighbours as those effects unfold, a new report from The Australia Institute and Oxfam Australia is critical. Pointing to Labor's promises when in oposition, the Australia Institute's Richard Denniss says the government has done little including with 150-Million dollars its allocated for climate change in the Pacific.

DENNISS: It's being spread increasingly thinly, its being spent on research rather than adaptation in some instances and it's being spent outside of the Pacific region and at the same time the government has gone completely silent on the need to discuss migration from what they referred to in opposition as our drowning neighbours.

MOTTRAM: A lot of Pacific states are already feeling the very direct effects of sea level rise and other climate change effects, but they do largely don't they want to stay in their own countries if they can. Why do you think immigration should be an issue?

DENNISS: Look of course they want to stay there and of course we should help them to stay there. But that said some areas, some low-lying atolls are already becoming impossible to inhabit and we do need to assist these people. We do need to discuss the very real possibility of some of these people having to move.

MOTTRAM: The group's are calling on Australia to at least double its commitment for Pacific climate change work. Andrew Hewett from Oxfam Australia says the money should be used to build on some of the work that's already happening in the region.

HEWETT: Climate change is becoming the central development issue. It's affecting every aspect of people's lives and its only going to be more-so in the coming years. Its got to be accorded that sort of priority at the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Cairns.

MOTTRAM: Australia's Parliamentary secretary for the Pacific, Duncan Kerr, rejects criticism of Australia's role.

KERR: I think it's pretty unfair to characterise as inadequate .. worked very hard .. signed Kyoto .. going forward with commitment to make sign undertakings internationally ... very sign progs for adaption, recog with best will internat comnunity will still be faced with a reality that existed CO2 will bring about some levels of climate change which will have very dramatic effects on our region.

MOTTRAM: Mr Kerr says Australia's efforts in the Pacific are aimed at practical adaptation measures. And he's warned against what he says is a worrying trend to creating despair about the future, with talk about moving communities rather than strengthening them in response to climate change. But he acknowledges that after his most recent of many trips to various Pacific states, regional leaders will be looking to Australia at the Cairns meeting to do more.

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