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Australia under pump to boost climate change aid (Bertarim Rimon interview)

ABC RADIO AUSTRALIA Updated 6 hours 3 minutes ago

There's pressure on the Australian government to substantially upgrade it's help for Pacific states in the face of climate change, with the issue set to be a major one for the looming Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting. Australia is chair of the meeting and a new report from think-tank The Australian Institute and Oxfam Australia, has been released to fuel the discussion.

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.

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 opposition, 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 and the best way to help them to stay there is for the Australian government to show some genuine leadership on the international stage and to announce at the Pacific Islands Forum that the Australian government will significantly increase our mitigation targets because really the best way to ensure that people can stay where they want to live is to prevent climate change. But that said some areas, some low-lying atolls are already becoming impossible to inhabit and we do need to assist these people, we need to be talking to their governments about how we can help them move within their countries. But in time, as the Labor Party were adamant about in opposition, in time 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: Fijians for instance are taking steps to climate proof their villages. They're trialling salt-resistant varieties of staple foods. They're planting mangroves and native grasses to halt coastal erosion. In the Solomon Islands, the provincial government is Malaita is looking for lands to resettle people. Its important that we really now help to build upon some of those good efforts help ensure they're properly resourced, help ensure they've got the right capacity to make the differences required. Climate change is becoming the central development issue. It's affecting every aspect of people's lives and its only going to be moreso in the coming years. Its got to be accorded that sort of priority at the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Cairns.

MOTTRAM: Australia's government says it is working closely on the issue in the region. Canberra's Parliamentary secretary for the Pacific Duncan Kerr told Pacific Beat last week that research was underway, mitigation and adaptation work .. for example, helping Tuvalu install rainwater tanks .. was underway. It's unclear whether any further announcements are planned when Prime Minister Rudd hosts Pacific Island leaders in Cairns next month. And even there are announcements, they're unlikely to include the very big, overarching call contained in the Australia Institute/Oxfam report .. that Australia should substantially increase the amount by which it intends to cut emissions of climate change gases .. the kinds of emissions that are responsible, climate scientists and Pacific islanders say, for the Pacific's climate change crisis in the first place.

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