World leader ‘astonished’ by Australia
A former leader of a Pacific Island nation has slammed Prime Minister Scott Morrison over climate change during a Q&A special filmed in Fiji on Monday night.
And a simple question from an audience member illustrated the degree of uncertainty islanders face.
On Q&A's Fiji special on Monday night, the ex-prime minister of the low-lying island nation of Tuvalu, Enele Sosene Sopoaga, didn't hold back against Mr Morrison.
Referring to the Pacific Islands Forum he chaired in August, at which Mr Morrison was criticised for his stance on climate change, Mr Sopoaga said he had been somewhat astonished by the Australian leader.
"There is one PM, unfortunately PM Scott Morrison of Australia expressing views that completely denies there is climate change happening already in the Pacific," Mr Sopoaga said.
"As chairman I was taken a little bit aback."
Mr Sopoaga was one of six guests on Monday night in a specially convened panel held in the island nation of Fiji, where climate change was one of the main topics along with foreign interference and Australian ties to the Pacific.
The guests were also asked what would happen to Pacific Island residents affected by rising sea levels in the future.
"We will face the situation where island countries like Tuvalu, Kiribati and others will be submerged into the sea by 2060," Mr Sopoaga said.
"This is a scary scenario and very, very serious."
"We still believe there is an opportunity for the world to react meaningfully and reduce greenhouse gases and keep temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
"If we could reach these targets … we have the opportunity to save people in countries like Tuvalu and avoid forcing them to relocate and resettle and leave their God-given islands."
Tuvalu and other island countries like Kirabati are so vulnerable to rising seawaters that it is predicted they will be submerged by the ocean by 2060.
Mr Sopoaga's point was movingly illustrated by a man in the audience who captured everyone's attention.
Standing up a colourful red-patterned shirt, he stumbled over his words at the start.
"We in the Pacific," he began. "We in the Pacific are facing the prospect of forced evacuation of villages and homes and becoming refugees.
"New Zealand has a plan for this.
"My question is to Australia - how is the Australian Government planning to help the people of the Pacific in this situation? Thank you."
Host Tony Jones threw to Australian International Development Minister, Alex Hawke, who said that "in many places you can relocate villages to other land masses".
"In others, where there are small island chains or it might not be possible," Mr Hawke said, "The best thing we can do is work with people to stay in their countries which is what people want to do."
Mr Hawke praised Australia's response to helping Pacific nations after natural disasters but was again asked the simple question by the man in the red shirt.
"That's why I asked this question because New Zealand already have a plan for the Pacific to apply on a climate change visa," he said.
"We don't know when this is happening. So, Australia, we don't know. That's why I asked this question … And Fiji already has done relocation. We don't know about Australia."
Enele Sopoaga intervened to quickly scotch Mr Hawke's talk of relocation, saying "relocation is not an option to stop climate change.
"Wherever you may be relocated, it will not stop climate change."
"We're referring to a climate crisis, emergency."
The reaction generated a large response online.
Australia’s governments can’t continue with a program of fossil fuel expansion and still look our Pacific neighbours in the eye #QandA— Elaine Johnson (@ElaineEDO) December 2, 2019
Fijian on #Qanda 'How is Aus able to help us with relocation? Aus Gov - Alex Hawke; 'That is a matter for future governments'. 🤦♂️😥 Subtext 'We are too busy mining fossil fuels to care' #NotMyGovernment— Christopher Pomfret (@CJPomfret) December 2, 2019
The arrogance & disrespect of the Australian Govt to sit there & lie to these people #qanda— 💧🌏 Denise Shrivell (@deniseshrivell) December 2, 2019
See how openly & honestly climate change is spoken about by people from other Countries? #qanda— 💧🌏 Denise Shrivell (@deniseshrivell) December 2, 2019
Mr Sopoaga cited the statistics of his nation being submerged in just 40 years and said he "certainly hoped" that "those who have polluted the atmosphere and caused global warming will come and do the right thing".
"The situation in Tuvalu is we still believe there is an opportunity for the world to react meaningfully, reduce greenhouse gases and keeping temperature increase to below 1.5 degrees celsius.
"We have the opportunity to saving these people in places like Tuvalu.
"And also avoiding them being forced to relocate and resettle and leave their God-given islands."
"I was hoping hosting it in Tuvalu would bring the magnitude of appreciation of the unique vulnerability of nations like [ours].
"And therefore more appreciation from leaders, particularly our leaders of our big neighbouring countries, to appreciate better.
"And I was hoping that the leaders would work together more solidly, in solidarity, with all island leaders."
"There was quite strong resistance on the call by Pacific Island leaders for more complete works to cut down greenhouse gases and to cut down and stop opening up new coal mines in Australia," he said.
Elsewhere in the show, Mr Sopoaga generated headlines when he said men who commit violence against women should be tied "to a coconut tree overnight, and let the mosquitos bite him and see what happens the next morning".