Australia said to end new fossil fuel subsidies if it wants Pacific backing for climate summit

Australia must stop subsidizing new fossil fuel developments if it is to win the backing of a key Pacific nation for its plan to co-host a major UN climate summit in 2026.

The Albanian government launched a campaign at the COP27 climate talks in Egypt to co-host the annual climate conference with Pacific neighbors in four years. The proposal could bring tens of thousands of people to an Australian city for climate talks and advocacy and has won support from the Pacific Islands Forum.

Vanuatu’s new climate change minister, Ralph Regenvanu, told Guardian Australia the support should be conditional.

A former foreign minister who took responsibility for climate change after last month’s national elections, Regenvanu said he was not critical of the Albanian government, describing it as a “breath of fresh air” and a refreshing change after the Morrison government, which was widely criticized for its inaction on global warming.

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But he said his government could not endorse Australia’s co-hosting offer if it invested more money in fossil fuel development, and would call on other Pacific nations to take the same position.

“I will speak to other Pacific island nations to make our support for Australia hosting the Cop conditional on no new government money being given to fossil fuels,” he said.

Regenvanu also called on Australia to join the Green Climate Fund, which funds climate and clean energy projects in developing countries. Scott Morrison abruptly pulled Australia out of the fund in 2019, arguing that his government would instead give climate funds directly to Pacific countries.

Some Pacific countries have indicated that they prefer this model as they feel that the Green Climate Fund has not focused enough on clean developments in the region. The Albanian government has yet to state its position on the global fund, but announced in the October budget an additional $900 million to support climate development and resilience in the Pacific.

Regenvanu said Australia should join the fund to help fix it. “I told the minister that they need to go into the Green Climate Fund and change it so that the most vulnerable countries, including in the Pacific, have access to it,” he said.

Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen said there would be no government funding for new coal and gas fields under the Labor government, and some funding for gas capture and storage developments and carbon reductions announced as part of the coalition have been redirected in the budget.

But the government has been criticized for maintaining $1.5bn equity support announced by the Morrison government for the Darwin Harbor Mid-Arm Industrial Estate, which is expected to include gas-using developments, and for expanding the offshore area available for oil and gas exploration.

Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies is a major goal for some countries at COP27, with Tuvalu joining Vanuatu in calling for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty.

Wednesday’s debate focused on the language of a possible deal, with Bowen co-leading discussions on text dealing with long-term climate finance.

Other negotiating streams were working on text on loss and damage, mitigation, adaptation and carbon markets. Loss and damage, which refers to pressure from developing countries for a fund or facility to pay for the impact of worsening climate disasters, seemed the most contentious. The Alliance of Small Island States, a negotiating bloc, said it fears some wealthy countries are backtracking on the issue.

The most energetic public moment of the day was a public appearance by Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who promised to begin repairing the environmental damage that took place under his far-right predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro. and work to end deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

Later this week, Regenvanu is expected to use COP27 to launch a final version of a resolution that Vanuatu plans to present to the UN General Assembly. The resolution will ask the International Court of Justice to give its opinion on states’ obligations to protect the rights of present and future generations against the effects of climate change.

COP27 is due to end on Friday evening, but negotiations have been slow and some observers believe they will continue until the weekend.

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