Australia in hot water over global warming stance
September 20, 1997
Web posted at: 3:49 p.m. EDT (1949 GMT)
RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (CNN) -- After a tense diplomatic
standoff, Pacific island nations attending the South Pacific
Forum gave in to Australia Saturday and agreed not to endorse
binding uniform cuts for greenhouse gas emissions.
Pacific leaders were outraged that Australian Prime Minister
John Howard put Australian interests ahead of their fate in forcing them to sign on to his stand.
They emerged unhappy from last-minute negotiations on the
wording of the forum's official communiqué, claiming
Howard had failed to respect island concerns.
Island states, some of which are only one or two yards
(meters) above sea level, fear they could be wiped out by
rising ocean levels caused by global warming.
"It was just a win by John Howard against 15 nations. Being
small, we depend on them so much. We had to give in to what
they wanted," said Tuvalu Prime Minister Bikenibeu Paeniu,
whose tiny nation is close to being submerged by rising
"There was no compromise. It was just no, no, no, no," he
Australia, a major exporter of coal and natural gas, says it
cannot afford to lose jobs and investment by agreeing to
international demands for mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas
That country and New Zealand, the biggest foreign aid donors
to the other 14 members of the Forum, entered the summit
urging island states on the brink of insolvency to take a
dose of tough economic medicine.
Australia intends to go to the U.N. climate conference in
Kyoto, Japan, in December with a plan to allow nations to set
their own limits, which would allow Australia to increase its
emissions until 2010.
Greenpeace: Australia 'bullied' nations
Paeniu said the talks were deadlocked by Howard's refusal to
budge on the issue, with the other nations only relenting to
avoid the first split in the forum's 27-year history.
The environmental group Greenpeace, which has been monitoring
the talks, said Australia had used its importance to force
the island states to agree to its greenhouse policies.
"The small island states have clearly been bullied into
submission," Greenpeace spokesman Ian Fry said.
Faced with strong opposition, Howard indicated Friday as he
entered the talks that Australia would back off its hard-line
approach. Afterward, he said the outcome of the three-day
summit protected Australia's interests while acknowledging
the island nations' fears.
"It's a fair outcome. It's a very good outcome for
Australia," he said. "My responsibility at the end of the
day, always above everything else, is to protect Australian
Australian environmentalist condemns stance
Australia's opposition environmental spokesman Duncan Kerr
called Howard's stance an embarrassment to the world.
"He has damaged our standing, not only in the eyes of several
South Pacific leaders, but also internationally with his
totally dismissive attitude of the existence and consequences
of global warming," Kerr said.
The South Pacific Forum was formed to tackle common issues
and enhance the collective regional voice of the South
Pacific so its views receive greater weight in the
A matter of survival
Small island nations, such as Tuvalu, had hoped the forum
would endorse tough and binding cuts in emissions, because
they claim it's a matter of survival.
"They spoke very passionately about their love for their
home and their concern at the threat that rising sea levels
will cause, and at times I can tell you the discussions got
quite warm," Cook Islands Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Henry
New Zealand Prime Minister Jim Bolger said it was one of the
most difficult issues the forum had ever tackled.
"If you are a small, low-lying island state ... and you have
a leeway of one or two meters (yards), then the intensity of
your emotions is totally understandable," he told reporters.
The Forum members are Australia, New Zealand, Cook Islands,
Fiji, Nauru, Tonga, Western Samoa, Niue, Papua New Guinea,
Kiribati, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands,
the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau.