September 16, 2019 / 10:42 AM / a month ago

Fiji PM calls for Australia to 'unite behind the science' of climate change

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama called on Monday on Australia to “unite behind the science” and be far more ambitious in reducing greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

Prime Minister of Fiji and COP 23 President Frank Bainimarama speaks during the COP24 UN Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

In a speech just weeks after Bainimarama accused Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison of condescension and forcing Australian policies onto its Pacific island neighbors, the Fijian prime minister was more conciliatory in asking for support in fighting climate change.

“I understand the depth of feeling in coal-producing communities in Australia and the wider economic imperatives at state and federal level,” Bainimarama said in Canberra, the Australian capital, after meeting Morrison.

“But I also hope that we can eventually find more common ground in our ‘vuvale’ on the climate issue,” he said, using the Fijian word for family, and the name of a partnership agreement that he said would guide the direction of bilateral ties.

“It is the greatest threat to our security in the Pacific and for my own people and other Pacific Islanders, the impacts are really starting to bite.”

The Pacific Islands Forum last month failed to agree on tough new climate change commitments at the insistence of the pro-coal Australian government, upsetting leaders of island nations at risk from rising sea levels.

Bainimarama said millions of Australians were already bearing the brunt of climate change.

“And as we have seen with the recent Australian bushfires, the ongoing drought and the fact that some Australian cities and towns face severe water shortages, the outlook is worsening,” he said.

Morrison is a staunch supporter of the coal industry and his backing of a coal mine planned for the state of Queensland was seen as a key factor in his government’s surprise re-election in a May election.

Welcoming Bainimarama earlier in the day, Morrison said the long-standing strategic and economic relations between their countries would endure.

“Whatever other complexities there are in the world today, one certainty is the relationship that exists between the people of Australia and the people of Fiji. And I think that will always endure,” Morrison said.

Reporting by Paulina Duran; Editing by Robert Birsel

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