As Pacific leaders meet to plead for help, New Zealand is criticised for failing to meet even its own commitments to financing climate change mitigation in the worst-hit developing countries – while greenwashing agricultural development funding as climate adaptation finance
The United Nations Secretary-General has vowed to protect the vulnerable Pacific region from the worsening impacts of the climate crisis, by fighting to keep global temperature rises beneath 1.5°C.
“I will never forget my last visit to the Pacific, when I saw the heart-breaking impacts of climate change,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a Pacific Islands Forum meeting this weekend.
“It is one thing to hear about rising sea levels and the devastation climate change brings to communities and nations; it is another to see it first-hand, to see the impact on people’s lives, to meet children who are anxious about their futures. I saw with my own eyes the deep challenges that vulnerable small island developing states are facing.”
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He said there was an opportunity for a “green recovery” from Covid, but developing nations needed massive support, including adequate liquidity and debt relief.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also spoke to the virtual Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ meeting – but it came as New Zealand faced tough questions about its commitment to mitigating the climate crisis, and its failure to adequately support its Pacific neighbours.
Indeed, New Zealand was not given a speaking slot at another major forum, the Climate Ambition Summit this weekend, an online placeholder for next year’s COP26 in Glasgow. The NZ Government says it didn’t have any appropriate climate commitments to announce.
“Covid-19 should serve as motivation to the global community to better prepare for shocks, underpin our policies with science, and bolster multilateral efforts to tackle common threats. We must ensure that financing for Covid-19 recovery advances the goals of the Paris Agreement and puts us on a course for climate smart, sustainable development.”
– Dame Meg Taylor
The summit’s programme included world leaders like Pope Francis, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, Germany’s Angela Merkel and China’s Xi Jinping – as well as Pacific representatives led by Kiribati leader Taneti Maamau, Nauru’s Lionel Aingimea and Fiji’s Frank Bainimarama.
At the summit, Guterres called for a State of Climate Emergency, until carbon neutrality is reached worldwide. “Let’s stop the assault on our planet”, he implored, “and do what we need to guarantee the future of our children and grandchildren”.
A new report from international aid organisation Oxfam rates New Zealand 21st out of 23 high-income countries for climate finance funding – funding that it says provides a lifeline to many of the world’s poorest countries and communities on the frontlines of climate change
“Wealthy countries like New Zealand, who have the economic capacity to act and the historical responsibility for causing climate change, owe nations on the frontlines urgent and proportionate finance to meet the scale of the crisis on their doorsteps.”
– Alex Johnston
The report Standing With The Frontlines acknowledges New Zealand performs well in other areas of climate finance, such as providing grants instead of loans, but is still falling well short of its own $75m a year commitments, and even further short of its $300-540m share of the world goal.
“Compared to other high-income countries, when population is taken into account, New Zealand is not a generous climate finance donor,” said Alex Johnston, at Oxfam NZ.
New Zealand had a moral obligation to developing countries to increase its climate finance, he argued. “In the afterglow of a symbolic step to declare a climate change emergency, we’re asking the New Zealand government to step up their climate finance contributions to meet the threshold for urgent action and deliver the vital support to developing countries that is promised.
“It is not clear how this project contributed to climate adaptation, let alone the listed mitigation benefit of reducing methane.”
– Oxfam report on Myanmar dairy farm aid
“Climate finance is a lifeline for communities facing record heatwaves, terrifying storms and devastating floods. Wealthy countries like New Zealand, who have the economic capacity to act and the historical responsibility for causing climate change, owe nations on the frontlines urgent and proportionate finance to meet the scale of the crisis on their doorsteps.”
Instead, New Zealand is ‘green-washing’ its aid. Oxfam’s report criticised a New Zealand aid project in Myanmar, providing investment to help build a profitable dairy industry in the war-torn Asian nation. Of the project’s $7m budget, $810,000 was counted as climate adaptation finance – even though climate change was not mentioned once in the evaluation report. “It is not clear how this project contributed to climate adaptation, let alone the listed mitigation benefit of reducing methane,” the report says.
Instead, Oxfam argues New Zealand could target its climate finance to some of the world’s least developed nations which are here in the Pacific, including Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Solomons.
“You can expect and should expect more from New Zealand in 2021 … As all of you have pointed out here, we have to focus on reducing our emissions if we are going to have a meaningful impact, and that next 10 years is so critical. But climate action is something the Pacific can’t do alone.”
– Jacinda Ardern
Aid projects that were working effectively included a five-year, $5m project to strengthen water security on vulnerable low-lying islands and atolls, and a $2m contribution this year to Fiji’s relocation fund for people displaced by climate change. The New Zealand Government does not yet support compensation for climate change-related loss and damage, taking the view that loss and damage is part of climate change adaptation – but supporting the Fiji fund was a step in the right direction, Oxfam says.
At the Pacific Islands Forum meeting, hosted out of Suva, leaders stressed the urgency of the climate change crisis facing their nations.
Chair Kausea Natano, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, said the world was already at 1.2 degree Celsius temperature rises and not tracking to constrain increases to 1.5°C. “We must raise our ambition and act now,” he said. “The future of our Blue Pacific depends on it.”
He welcomed announcements from Forum Dialogue Partners like China and Canada to achieve such targets as net zero by 2050, enhance their Nationally Determined Contributions, and double climate finance commitments. There are currently 18 Dialogue Partners to the Forum, collectively responsible for emitting 67 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. “Their choices are key to the Pacific’s very survival,” Natano said.
Jacinda Ardern told her fellow leaders that they could – and should – expect more action from New Zealand on climate change. She highlighted the Government’s 100 percent renewable electricity commitment and its promise to decarbonise the public sector – and signalled that in May next year, the Climate Change Commission would push the boat out further by advising how NZ could align to a maximum 1.5°C temperature rise.
But she made no promises of further support for Pacific island nations.
Afterwards, Pacific Islands Forum Secretary-General Dame Meg Taylor said Covid-19 should not be a reason to delay climate change action.
“Rather, it should serve as motivation to the global community to better prepare for shocks, underpin our policies with science, and bolster multilateral efforts to tackle common threats. We must ensure that financing for Covid-19 recovery advances the goals of the Paris Agreement and puts us on a course for climate smart, sustainable development,” Taylor said.
“Our Blue Pacific has one critical message for the world: we need ambitious climate change action, now – not 5, 10 or 50 years into the future but immediately, if we are to secure our children’s future.”
– Lionel Aingimea
Samoa-born, NZ-based climate scientist Penehuro Lefale told RNZ the world’s reliance on oil, gas and coal and its inability to find alternatives was at the heart of the climate crisis, and that should be Pacific leaders’ focus.
Smaller nations including Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific were responsible for six percent of carbon dioxide emissions, which he said was the most harmful climate gas.
Forum leaders needed to push the three largest emitters – China, the US and Europe – to remove fossil fuel subsidies.
“A lot of the big companies like oil companies, natural gas and coal companies are heavily subsidised by governments to make it cheaper for us – like when you go to fill your car in the gas station,” he said. “So, unless we remove that subsidy, there will be no change to the climate crisis.”
United Kingdom’s COP26 President Designate Alok Sharma said they would seek to understand what Pacific leaders were asking, ahead of next year’s critical summit in Glasgow. “I am determined to amplify the voices of climate vulnerable countries, and put them at the heart of COP26,” he said. ”So that together, we unleash the full potential of the Paris Agreement and build a brighter and more sustainable future for us all.”
Nauru president Lionel Aingimea spoke at both the Pacific Islands Forum meeting and the Climate Ambition Summit – and he delivered the same message.
“As we reach the five-year anniversary of the Paris Agreement, our Blue Pacific has one critical message for the world: we need ambitious climate change action, now – not five, 10 or 50 years into the future but immediately, if we are to secure our children’s future.”