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Turnbull Must Provide Funding For Our Pacific Neighbour's Survival

He has that chance today.

09/09/2016 9:22 AM AEST | Updated September 9, 2016 09:30
Edgar Su / Reuters
People sign up for assistance at a Red Cross aid centre, days after Cyclone Pam in Port Vila, capital city of the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu March 19, 2015. REUTERS/Edgar Su

Eighteen months after cyclone Pam began its menacing track towards Vanuatu, Malcom Turnbull is expected to face ongoing pressure to increase Australia's commitment to climate action when he meets with leaders from across the Pacific today.

When Pam unleashed its fury on the islands of Vanuatu on March 13 2015, it left its devastating mark as one of the worst natural disasters in the Pacific region's history.

Tragically, Pam claimed eleven lives and left a trail of destruction which would affect more than 70 per cent of Vanuatu's population.

For far too many of our Pacific neighbours, their lives have been forever changed and the impacts of climate change are now a matter of survival.

For the leaders of our smaller neighbouring islands, the Pacific Island Forum Leaders Meeting in Micronesia is a chance to keep climate change, including international climate finance, firmly on the regional agenda.

Climate change is increasing the destructive power of tropical cyclones. Shifting weather patterns and damage to marine ecosystems are making it harder for people to grow, buy and catch enough food to eat. Rising seas pose an existential challenge to low-lying populations.

In a chilling sign of things to come, Australian research released earlier this year found five uninhabited islands in the Solomon Islands had disappeared because of rising seas and villages have been destroyed on another six populated islands.

Against a backdrop of blues seas and lush island greenery, I saw first-hand the realities of climate change faced by our close island neighbours on a visit to Vanuatu last year.

While cyclones are a feature of life in the Pacific, locals described Pam as the strongest in living memory -- and expressed genuine fears that the impacts of climate change were increasing the strength of the cyclones that threatened their homes and lives.

Pam affected about 188,000 people across 22 islands, decimating 96 per cent of food stocks and disrupting, destroying or contaminating the water supply of many residents.

On the island of Efate, 20-year-old Lisa Melio gave birth to her son Jeremiah the day after Pam struck. Lisa sheltered on the flooded floor of the church in her small village, Etas, when the cyclone hit.

When she emerged the next day, Lisa described tears being shed by her friends and family as they faced the reality of losing everything -- and she soon discovered her home was among an estimated 15,000 demolished across Vanuatu.

The cyclone also wiped out the food and water supplies in Etas, leaving the young mother no option but to drink and wash in dirty water.

In the wake of Pam, Oxfam trucked in clean water to more than 3,000 people on Efate in a partnership with Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office – helping people like Lisa and newborn Jeremiah avoid an outbreak of disease as they grappled with the enormous task of rebuilding.

Pacific islanders like Lisa and her son, the people who have contributed least to the causes of climate change, have been left among the most vulnerable in our region, forced into the frontline of increasingly severe climate change impacts.

They are unable to afford the resources needed to respond to this threat to their livelihoods and homes.

Australia, by contrast, is one of the wealthiest and biggest countries in the Pacific. And with that fortunate position comes responsibility.

But it's a responsibility that is currently unmet and underfunded.

As a matter of global justice, developing countries must receive adequate funding to adapt to the escalating impacts of climate change.

Pacific countries are already working hard to build the resilience of their communities. Investments in climate change adaptation and disaster preparedness, such as early warning systems, and using traditional knowledge to enhance food security, have helped to reduce losses from disasters like Pam and speed the process of recovery.

But with communities facing an increasingly dangerous and uncertain future from climate change, the need for greater and more accessible financial support is urgent and increasing.

Australia's contribution to climate finance -- international funding to support climate action in developing countries -- is lagging behind other developed nations.

Australia's annual contribution of about $200 million to international climate finance has not increased since 2010.

In this time, Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu and caused damage worth 47% of the country's GDP. Just six months ago, Cyclone Winston slammed into Fiji and left a damage bill worth about a fifth of the country's GDP. Both events are alarming reminders of the dramatic escalation in climate-related impacts in our region.

The international community has agreed to mobilise $130 billion a year in international climate finance by 2020. For Australia to provide its fair share, our total annual public and private contribution must reach $3.2 billion by 2020.

We have such a long way to go.

Added to the concern is that our international climate finance contributions are being drawn from a severely depleted foreign aid budget, which was recently slashed to a shameful historic low.

Other developed countries -- including France, Germany, the UK and US -- have significantly increased their commitments to climate finance. Developing countries, including China, have also started contributing.

Independent research released this week by Oxfam shows that while there are deficiencies in the scale and predictability of climate finance, Pacific nations are also facing considerable challenges accessing existing funds. Processes are incredibly complex and sometimes pose an overwhelming hurdle for small, isolated countries in dire need.

After taking stock of the climate risks in the Pacific region and current climate finance commitments, Oxfam's report has made more than 50 recommendations for urgent action in 11 strategic areas – essential measures which will improve access to climate finance.

The recommendations include simplifying approvals procedures, ensuring women and young people have a stronger say in programs and giving priority to community and civil society initiatives.

Oxfam is also calling on Australia to investigate innovative new sources of funding – avenues such as levies on international transport emissions and revenues from carbon markets.

Australia has shown it can be proactive -- it has been working to ensure Pacific island countries gain better access to the new Green Climate Fund, set up by 194 governments to support low-carbon development in developing countries and help vulnerable communities adapt to the impacts of climate change.

But the gap between what our Pacific island neighbours need and the climate finance available is big and growing.

There is not enough funding, sources of money are often not predictable and there are problems accessing the climate finance which is available.

It is up to Mr Turnbull to make sure Australia does not shirk its full responsibility -- we must do more to remove the barriers to accessing climate finance, including contributing our fair share.

For our neighbours, this support is crucial in their battle for their survival.

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