Pacific nations get hot over global warming
SUVA, Fiji (CNN) -- Australia's reluctance to sign the Kyoto Protocol on global warming is emerging as a key issue in this year's South Pacific Forum.
The transporting of nuclear waste through the Pacific and the situation in Zimbabwe are also among the issues likely to be discussed.
The annual meeting of 16 Pacific nations, which began in the Fijian capital Suva on Thursday, is one of the few international forums for the small, scattered island nations to air their grievances.
Low-lying island nations such as Tuvalu are particularly aggrieved by Australia's stance which they believe downplays the threat rising sea-levels pose to their livelihoods.
Tuvalu leaders say the reality of rising sea-levels is already apparent in their nation with many formerly dry areas now submerged.
Tuvalu says Australia should be championing the cause of the Pacific nations instead of siding with the United States over global warming.
But Australian Prime Minister John Howard denies there are serious tensions between Australia and its Pacific neighbors, despite the difference of opinion on climate change.
Speaking from Suva Thursday, Howard said he was unconcerned.
"There will be some areas where we differ, but overall the relations are good and there's a lot of work to be done," he said.
Along with the United States, Australia -- a major global exporter of fossil fuels such as coal -- is one of the few developed nations to refuse to ratify the Kyoto Protocol aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
He also denied there was disquiet among island nations over Australia's policy of shipping asylum seekers to detention centers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
"Suggestions that there's going to be a concerted attack, or even a sporadic attack, on Australia over this issue, I don't see borne out in what I've been told," Howard told television viewers.
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, meanwhile, is eager to have the contentious issue of Zimbabwe's land reforms discussed by the forum.
Fourteen of the forum nations are Commonwealth members and Clark will use the meeting to drum up support for having Zimbabwe suspended from that grouping over its policy of expelling white farmers from their land.
The Commonwealth consists of 54 nations most of which formerly constituted the British empire.
The recently re-elected Clark will also push for the forum to issue an statement on the transporting of nuclear waste by ship through Pacific water.
New Zealand has a strict anti-nuclear policy and ban nuclear powered or armed ships, or ships carrying nuclear waste, from entering its territorial waters.
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