It’s a pleasure to be here tonight, on the eve of what we all hope will be very productive COP21 negotiations in Paris.
I was moved by the strong messages, from around the world, of solidarity with France following the terrible attacks in Paris earlier this month.
I was humbled to see messages of support and tributes in person when I laid a wreath at the Place de la République last week.
And on behalf of all Australians, I add our condolences, and express our solidarity with France again tonight.
But what struck me, in the aftermath of those awful events, was how a tragedy can make us realise how much we have in common.
And in these many areas of common interest, we must stand together to face common challenges.
And not just on immediate issues of national security or terrorism, but also in response to long-term issues which have a global impact, requiring global change.
Solidarity is what is needed in response to those terrible attacks; and solidarity is what is needed if we are to address climate change.
Tonight, as we launch COP21 here in the Pacific, I’d particularly like to talk to you about Australia’s solidarity with our Pacific neighbours on climate change.
Australian targets for COP21
Just last week I was in Paris for the France-Oceania Summit hosted by President Hollande.
Amid fruitful discussions about improving regional integration and regional prosperity, I welcomed the opportunity to discuss further with our Pacific neighbours and with France, how the effects of climate change are impacting on the Pacific.
Papua New Guinea is experiencing food and water shortages as a result of drought caused by El Nino, as are Vanuatu, Fiji and Solomon Islands.
And Vanuatu continues efforts to rebuild after Cyclone Pam wreaked havoc there in March this year.
As a Pacific country, Australia too faces serious climate change challenges, as recent terrible bushfires in South and West Australia remind us.
This is why Australia has set an ambitious target for Paris – a reduction of emissions by 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030.
Our target will complement the targets of over 150 other countries, which will heavily reduce global emissions.
We are also making big investments – over $15 billion – in new and innovative technology to expand our renewable and clean energy sector.
Australia wants to see a strong and durable global agreement come out of Paris.
And we want this, particularly, on behalf of our Pacific neighbours.
Australia’s support for Pacific on climate change
Ladies and gentlemen, four Pacific Island countries – Vanuatu, Tonga, Solomon Islands and PNG – are in the top ten of the most at-risk countries – in the world – of natural hazards.
Natural hazards like drought, floods, weather patterns like El Nino, and devastating cyclones.
Many of these natural hazards are brought about by climate change.
As a Pacific nation, Australia recognises the challenges of climate change in our neighbourhood, particularly for atoll states.
Advocacy on behalf of Pacific neighbours
And as a Pacific nation, Australia is committed to ensuring the voices of our Pacific neighbours are heard, loud and clear, in Paris this week.
That’s why we are throwing our weight behind Pacific countries on climate change issues and negotiations.
We’ve got a good track-record of support for our Pacific neighbours in international forums on climate change.
And our support is based on needs and priorities identified by Pacific Island countries.
We’ve advocated on behalf of our Pacific neighbours in the UN, through our seat on the Green Climate Fund, at the France-Oceania Summit last week, and we will again this week, in Paris.
I’m particularly pleased one of the first projects approved by the Fund is for a water management project in Fiji. This shows our Pacific voices are being heard.
We’ve also provided training for Pacific climate negotiators – including women negotiators – to prepare for and participate – at the UN, and in Paris.
Practical assistance to the Pacific
But we recognise we need to complement our advocacy efforts with practical action.
That’s why Australia has invested over $50 million in climate resilience projects in vulnerable at risk countries across the Pacific, enabling our neighbours to better to respond to natural disasters.
In Tuvalu, which has a population of just 11,000 people, we’ve helped install 150 rainwater tanks and a desalination system.
This means clean water is available in the capital, Funafuti, as well as in primary schools on outer islands, even if sea levels rise. That’s a great return on an investment of $2.5 million over five years.
We’re also being innovative in the way in which we deliver assistance.
From climate-proofing large scale infrastructure like roads, ports and bridges, to community-level village solar lighting projects.
We provide $16 million annually to strengthen Pacific resilience in education, food security, water security and sanitation.
In Fiji’s Yasawa Islands – a chain of around 20 sparsely populated and drought-prone islands – there are no roads, cars, banks or shops.
But, with Australian support, a community Food Bank project produces risk-resilient crops and improves farming techniques for locals who absolutely depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.
Those are some of the small-scale, but high impact projects which Australia supports in the Pacific.
Support for disaster preparedness
But we also recognise the need for greater preparedness for natural disasters in the region.
Together with 14 Pacific countries, we are working to improve forecasting and reporting on climate, tides and the ocean.
And importantly, to deliver practical information to people in the Pacific on drought conditions, water storage, and on the health risks which result from natural disasters, such as malaria.
In the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, our Climate Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction and Education program is helping communities determine appropriate responses to natural disasters.
By the end of next year, around 10,000 school-aged children in 50 schools will have benefited from this program.
We have also invested heavily in science and technology, to better understand climate impacts in the Pacific.
And we want to ensure our neighbours benefit from our world-class scientists and researchers.
Australia’s CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology have been central to this work.
In collaboration with colleagues in Pacific countries, Australian scientists have worked to track climate trends, provide regional and country-specific climate projections, and to improve understanding of ocean processes and sea level rise.
Earlier this month, while in Niue, I commissioned a new, state-of-the-art tidal gauge, which is part of this scientific collaboration.
Another excellent example is our ‘Mapping Exposure to Sea Level Rise in the Pacific Islands’ project, which helps Tonga, PNG, Samoa and Vanuatu prepare for sea level rises.
Indeed, the project’s online mapping tools have received international recognition, from Google – which is certainly a stamp of approval – and from the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat for COP21.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are poised at the beginning of a week which could be a turning point for the way in which the world addresses climate change.
It certainly is an exciting prospect, and I know you’ll all join me in wishing ‘bon courage’ to all those delegations in Paris.
But in particular, I ask we keep the Pacific at the front of our minds when taking action on climate change – as Australia has done, and will continue to do.
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