Patricia Karvelas interview with Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga: RN Breakfast

The Australia Institute
Aug 14 · 7 min read

E&OE Transcript 14 August 2019

Image: Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga is urging definitive action on climate change (UN Women/flickr.com/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) sourced from ABC News.

Listen to full interview on ABC RN website here.

Patricia Karvelas: Tuvalu has been described as being on the extreme front line of the world’s changing climate. What’s your key message to your fellow Pacific leaders?

Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga: Well, the situation is dire. It is urgent. And we have been saying this for so many years. And now things are really getting bad, my message to the leaders is that we must act urgently, and use the forum here in Tuvalu to make decisive decision and actions to call on the world and particularly take advantage of the upcoming summit of the Secretary General on climate change to do actions particularly on reducing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. That is the core and it is certainly my wish that leaders here in Tuvalu will see the extreme vulnerability that Tuvalu is in through impacts from climate change and therefore make humanitarian, moral decisions here in Tuvalu.

Patricia Karvelas: What impact is the changing climate having on your country right now? You talked about the urgency right now. What are you referring to?

Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga: People are about to be fallen and to be swallowed into the sea because of erosion and there is attacks on the food crops and also their actual livelihoods, households, and also there is anxiety. We’ve been saying these things for so many years. And the people are not listened to, but I’m so grateful that we’re having the meeting of the Pacific leaders on Tuvalu. And the people are really really, the Tuvaluan people are already suffering from droughts, from attacks to their food crops, and also to their basic livelihood. There is swells and surges of waves unexpectedly even during when there is no tropical cyclones. These things are happening and also affecting the oceans in coral bleaching and acidification. There is also noticeable impacts on the Tuna stock- the fisheries stock that we depend for our livelihood but also for revenue generation. So these things are serious and I hope the leaders will see this- that therefore we need to act quickly and call on the world to do the right thing to save these people and other people of these pacific island countries and the rest of the world.

Patricia Karvelas: Prime Minister, there are reports this morning in the Australian News Paper here that our government, the Morrison Government, is lobbying behind the scenes of your forum to keep a transition from coal fired power out of the final communique. Is that happening?

Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga:

The leaders are going to meet tomorrow in their retreat. Discussions so far, as far as I know now, within the groups of the forum, by members of the forum is to call on Australia to end coal mining not to open new coal mining and also to do things that are necessary to keep up with the targets of Paris agreement.

With the targets of the Kyoto protocol and all the commitments that we have done for many years in the forum, and in the UN, and many other processes. So that is the language that I am aware of-

Patricia Karvelas: — so you want that to be in the communique?

Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga: Absolutely. That’s what I prefer to have in the communique. I prefer not have, you know.. other issues outside of the communique. Of course, people can issue statements — the leaders will need to sign on and endorse such statements.

But on coal mining, as far as I know, the current thing on the table now is to call for the end of coal mining and not to open new coal mining.

On everybody. I’m not targeting the government of Australia, but you know, for the rest of the world to do that.

Patricia Karvelas: But Prime Minister, is Australia lobbying Tuvalu to exclude that from the communique?

Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga: We have been informed of the upcoming announcements concerning the intervention and support by Australia, from Australia, on renewable energy. We appreciate the gesture to work together, but it doesn’t provide, you know, a good rationale not to do the right thing and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, particularly the targets. It doesn’t make a good excuse to keep on opening coal mining and you know, and pull out more in the interest of national interest. We have to come together as a collective in the forum as well as a collective in the global effort to reduce greenhouse gasses, so we don’t go beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius.

We were given science the other day here in Tuvalu and it is really terrifying to hear all the leaders of the Pacific Island countries hearing the science that we already heading towards a three degree Celsius temperature increase by the end of the century. That would spell complete demise and submersion of Tuvalu and islands like Tuvalu into the sea. This is ridiculous and I don’t think it is acceptable. It’s totally unacceptable to Tuvalu.

Patricia Karvelas: So, Prime Minister, you’ll be insisting on this?

Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga: We are working on it. And I think the forum, the pacific island leaders forum is a vehicle, is an avenue that we can take advantage of our solidarity and work towards coming out with very very clear decisions to end these emissions from coal mining and to move forward to a new energy mix that will provide some safety and security for islands like Tuvalu and the rest of the world, I mean, including Australia and other big countries as well.

Patricia Karvelas: So Prime Minister, my understanding is this is a redline issue for Australia — this reference to ending coal mining — so is it possible this forum could end without any agreement on a final communique and how significant would that be?

Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga:

Let me say that we are already crossing the red lines for Tuvalu in terms of survival.

We are already crossing the red lines for, to keep, to save the small island countries and also to keep them afloat above water. We need to implement and recognise our obligations under the convention to avoid dangerous levels of emissions and climate change effect on people and current and future generations.

So if it is a red line for Australia- coal mining not to touch that- I’m saying, we are already crossing the red lines for the lives of the people of Tuvalu and many others.

I’m sure we can try to move to some collective decisions that we can satisfy this situation. I think we need to bring it down to the people level- The effect of the people. Not about saving industries and that sort of thing.

I strongly believe that we need to recognise that small island countries like Tuvalu have already crossed the red lines. And these red lines are caused by people keep on burning fossil fuels and coal and releasing greenhouse gasses- We need to be realistic and pragmatic about this.

Patricia Karvelas: — Prime Minister, the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, arrives today with this promise of a five year, five million dollar climate aid package. You’ve said that you respect Australia’s financial support. But what is it that you want Australia to do?

Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga: I think it is very very well that, I think, gesture to help the small islands, but it doesn’t give any right to any person to give money in order for them not to do things that cut down their emissions back home, at the domestic level. I think it is rather, perhaps, a properly considered view, that by giving out five hundred million dollars would give an excuse not to stop coal mining, not to reduce greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. It’s just immoral — It’s almost like, you know, giving money to people to shut up, not to talk about their rights to survive. It is the right of the people of Tuvalu and small islands to survive. Whether it is 500 million, or 1 billion, or whatever, it doesn’t make any difference from the obligations as leaders, as countries, to reduce greenhouse gasses. I think it is almost like buying off the support. And Tuvalu’s not, I’m not going to say to do that- in the sake of saving my people. So, therefore, we also need to be careful about the need to work together under the collective multilateral arrangements that we’ve established ourselves. We have the Green Climate Fund which is calling out for replenishment. And these sort of things, it’s OK, they’re appreciated, but I don’t think it is coming from new funding. It’s almost like rescheduling all the aid — lets, I don’t know the actual details of these offers, but maybe they are matters to be discussed when Prime Minister Morrison gets into the forum this afternoon. Certainly, the leaders would need to reflect on these offers.

Patricia Karvelas: Prime Minister, just on another issue, climate change isn’t the only thing Pacific leaders are grappling with- China’s growing presence and influence is a huge talking point. And Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom have all been focusing more attention on your region to counter that. Do you think a bit of strategic competition is healthy for the Pacific?

Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga: Well, I think it should be based on genuine and durable partnership. That is the whole idea- we’ve moved away from the aid dependency syndrome and paradigm. So, I certainly wish and hope the leaders here in the forum at Tuvalu would focus on that — the influence of partners will be based on the framework of partnership. Of genuine and durable partnership.

Patricia Karvelas: Prime Minister, thank you so much for your time…


The Australia Institute

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Canberra-based think tank conducting research on a broad range of economic, social and environmental issues in order to inform public debate > tai.org.au

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