PM set for climate debate at Pacific forum

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will visit Tuvalu for the Pacific Islands Forum.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will visit Tuvalu for the Pacific Islands Forum.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is due to arrive at the Pacific Islands Forum where he will come face to face with leaders ready to debate his government's approach to climate change.

The prime minister will touch down in Tuvalu's capital of Funafuti on Wednesday afternoon, joining Minister for the Pacific Alex Hawke.

He will face confronting scenes at the airport, with local children sitting in a shallow pool of water to show how their home is on the forefront of climate change.

They will be singing "save Tuvalu, save the world".

Mr Morrison says his Pacific Step-up plan hopes to build a region that is strategically secure as well as stable economically and politically.

"I look forward to discussing vital regional issues, including climate change and the challenges the Pacific faces, as well as regional security," he said.

Mr Morrison is expected to have bilateral discussions with Vanuatu's leader Charlot Salwai, New Zealand's prime minister Jacinda Ardern, Cook Islands head Henry Puna and Tuvalu's Enele Sopoaga.

To coincide with his arrival, the prime minister has announced $1.5 million for another 150 technical and vocational scholarships to help Pacific islanders looking for work.

Mr Morrison will also launch an online platform that provides interactive labour market and skills data to help industries across the Pacific.

Australia's approach to reducing emissions and reliance on coal has been under the spotlight at the leaders' forum, with the smaller islands reiterating the existential threat they face from climate change.

The smaller islands want Australia to abandon its decision to use carryover credits towards the Paris agreement emissions reduction goal, but the federal government has stood firm against such calls.

Although the Tuvaluans welcomed an Australian commitment of $500 million over five years for climate resilience projects in the Pacific, Mr Sopoaga said it didn't give Mr Morrison a free pass on other issues.

"No matter how much money you put on the table, it doesn't give you the excuse not to do the right thing, which is cutting down your emissions, including not opening your coal mines," he told reporters on Tuesday.

Labor's spokesman for the Pacific, Pat Conroy, has criticised the government for rebadging existing aid money, saying it will mean countries such as Pakistan receive less help.

"Which is incredibly significant given it's the heart of Islamic extremism and insurgency in South Asia," he told ABC's Radio National.

New analysis by left-leaning The Australia Institute has found that by using carryover credits, the federal government will save itself from reducing emissions by the equivalent of seven years of fossil fuels to that of its Pacific neighbours.

Australia intends to use 367Mt of carbon credits towards the Paris goal, while the Pacific Island nations use about 45Mt each year.

Mr Morrison will no doubt use bilateral talks to raise concerns over China's increasing presence in the region, notably if he speaks with US Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt.

Nauru president Baron Waqa on Tuesday heaped glowing praise on his ally Taiwan, highlighting a hurdle for China in its attempts to increase its presence in the Pacific.

A handful of Pacific island nations -including Tuvalu and Nauru - are diplomatic allies to Taiwan rather than China.

Australian Associated Press