The political economy of the Climate Crisis in the Pacific

During 2018 I travelled to Wellington in New Zealand to participate in the second Pacific Climate Change Conference hosted by Victoria University and located in the amazing Te Papa Tongarewa Museum. It was a fascinating inter-disciplinary conference featuring international climate scientists such as Professor Michael Mann from Pennsylvania State University, as well as a diversity of social scientists, community representatives and activists from across the Pacific.

Professor Michael Mann outlining the science of climate change (© Christopher Wright)

I presented a paper on the political economy of the climate crisis viewed through the lens of Australia’s increasingly fractious relationship with its Pacific neighbours. As the world’s largest exporter of coal and gas, Australia has become increasingly marginalised in the Pacific community for its wanton disregard of the worsening climate crisis. As Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama declared in 2015 over the Australian government’s continued expansion of coal mining:

Australia is siding with what I call the coalition of the selfish – those industrialised nations which are putting the welfare of their carbon-polluting industries and their workers before our welfare and survival as Pacific Islanders.

Opening of the Second Pacific Climate Change Conference, February 2018 (© Christopher Wright)

It would be nice to report that since then the Australian government’s position has changed and there is now a clear focus on the need to embrace rapid decarbonization and wind back our fossil fuel industries. But of course that hasn’t happened. If anything, the current Morrison government is doubling down on the fossil fuel bet with its “gas-led recovery” from the corona virus pandemic and proposed Senate inquiries into financial institutions shifting away from fossil fuel investments!

While fossil fuel multinationals pivot from explicit climate denial to a strategy of predatory delay, our Pacific neighbours are facing the very real likelihood of the physical inundation of their lands by rising oceans and worsening tropical cyclones. The Australian government at the behest of its fossil fuel donors seems oblivious to the suffering that will ensue in this “age of consequences”.

Australia’s fossil fuel expansionism places its relationship with its Pacific neighbours at risk (© Christopher Wright)

You can read my chapter from the recently published book In the Eye of the Storm: Reflections from the Second Pacific Climate Change Conference here.

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