Australia has been urged to hasten its transition to renewable energy as climate change dominates talks ahead of the Pacific Islands Forum.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will attend the forum on Wednesday in Tuvalu’s capital Funafuti, with Minister for the Pacific Alex Hawke representing Australia until then.
Mr Morrison has announced $500 million of funding to the Pacific nations to help the region builds its disaster resilience in the face of climate change.
The money – which will begin next year over five years – is part of a broader climate change and oceans package the prime minister will outline while in Tuvalu.
Although the meeting doesn’t officially kick off until Tuesday, a climate change dialogue was held on Monday.
Fijian prime minister Frank Bainimarama used his opening remarks to stress the importance of halting a global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees, fearing what a higher increase could do.
“(The) world must not turn its back on countries facing existential threats,” he said.
Mr Bainimarama has not attended the forum since 2007 after facing a ban due to political reasons and later vowing not to personally take part if Australia and New Zealand’s dominance in the forum wasn’t dealt with.
But he described Mr Morrison and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as his friends, showing commitment to climate change fuelled diplomacy.
The smaller Pacific island nations recently developed the Nadi Bay Declaration, which called for Australia to increase its emissions reduction goals, not to use carryover credits towards such targets and to move away from coal.
The Fijian prime minister acknowledged the role coal plays towards the Australian economy and electricity.
“We respect you have your interests,” he said.
“It is not for us to be prescriptive about how you run your affairs.”
But the case for coal can’t continue towards having net zero emissions by 2050, he added, saying he looked forward to seeing progress in Australia when he next visits.
Tuvalu is made up of nine small coral islands and is at the forefront of climate change, with fears such islands could be uninhabitable as early as 2030.
“If, God forbid, effort fails because selfish interests above our own, Fiji will offer a new home to Tuvalu and others,” Mr Bainimarama said.
“(But) … you should get to stay in the place you call home.”
Despite the Pacific’s efforts, Australia’s emissions reduction target remains at 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, with the use of credits from previous agreements to reach that goal.
The host nation of Tuvalu says using the credits is a “disingenuous” response to the Paris agreement.
“The approach by Australia strains the relationship with its Pacific neighbours, but this is nothing new. We are used to this,” spokeswoman for Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga told AAP ahead of the forum.
A dozen families had to move from the outer islands of Tuvalu to Funafuti after the devastating Cyclone Pam in 2015.
The nation fears the impacts of cyclones are becoming more severe due to climate change, with fears more families will inevitably be displaced.