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Advancing Australia’s Pacific and Climate Leadership in the G20

08 May 2024
By Ridvan Kilic
The Hon Pat Conroy, Minister for International Development & the Pacific undertakes a site visit of the Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project (TCAP) with Minister Seve Paeniu, Minister for Finance and Economic Development of Tuvalu (responsible for Climate Change) at the TCAP worksite in Funafuti, Tuvalu on August 29, 2023. Source: DFAT /

Today, Pacific Island nations are among the most vulnerable countries to climate change, and Pacific communities are subsequently on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese acknowledged this fact when he recently stated that “we recognise the climate crisis is the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security, and wellbeing of people in the Pacific.”

Since coming to power in 2022, the Albanese government has committed to tackling climate change at home and establishing Australia as a global leader in the area. Of course, like its Pacific neighbours, Australia has also been impacted by climate change in recent years. The Australian government has tried to combat the growing climate crisis by developing a net zero 2050 plan and a new medium-term emissions reduction target for 2035.

Internationally, the Albanese government’s climate diplomacy efforts in the Pacific are an integral part of Australian foreign policy today. In 2022, the government formally reinstated an Australian Ambassador for climate change. The Ambassador plays a leading and pivotal role in global climate advocacy, including engaging with Australia’s Pacific neighbours. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has subsequently been at the forefront of leading Canberra’s international response through multilateral organisations. This renewed commitment was welcomed by Pacific Island leaders at the 2022 Pacific Islands Leaders Forum (PIF).

As the PIF’s sole G-20-member state, Canberra could advance the collective climate policies of its Pacific neighbours through the grouping at this year’s G20 Summit in Rio. This would also align with the Brazilian Presidency’s key goal of spearheading the climate agenda and promoting reforms in global green finance initiatives. As the world’s premier forum for international economic cooperation, the G20 aims to address major global economic issues such as climate change mitigation, and climate finance.

Under Brazil’s leadership, the G20 Global Mobilisation Against Climate Change working group was recently established with hopes to generate income and reduce climate inequality for the most vulnerable communities affected by climate change. For instance, Brazil wants to steer the G20 towards an agreement on reforming the international climate finance system by streamlining direct access to global green funds for climate vulnerable and small Island developing states (SIDS).

This is understandable as the world’s most vulnerable states continue to face significant barriers in directly accessing international green funds. SIDS countries are heavily burdened and disadvantaged by the global green fund’s stringent funds accreditation and project approval procedures. As such, it can take SIDS countries years to develop a proposal and to receive critical climate change funding. Under the current arrangement, green funds are mostly failing to reach vulnerable climate change frontline communities, especially in the Pacific.

Last year, Australia recognised the Pacific’s climate finance needs by pledging AUD$150 million to climate finance for Pacific countries. Canberra will contribute a foundational $100 million to the Pacific Resilience Facility (PRF), a Pacific-led and member-owned trust fund that will invest in small-scale climate and disaster resilience projects in Pacific Island states. Under the Albanese government, Australia also recently rejoined the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and contributed $50 million to the world’s largest climate financing mechanism. The GCF provides financial assistance to developing countries in climate adaptation and mitigation practices to counter the climate crisis. By rejoining the GCF, the government believes that it will enable Canberra to advocate better for the funding to meet Pacific needs. Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong called on other donor countries to follow Canberra’s example and pledge serious funding towards the USD$500 million target for the PRF.

Australia’s climate diplomacy efforts in the Pacific have been given a further boost in its recent official development assistance (ODA) budget, pledging AUD$900 million to the Pacific. A substantial amount of this funding is going to the region’s climate resilience and mitigation objectives. Additionally, Canberra will contribute funding for the Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project, which will expand Funafuti’s land by around six percent.

With a renewed sense of purpose to its Pacific leadership, Australia should advocate for the invitation and participation of the PIF Secretariat to this year’s G20 Summit. Additionally, Canberra could push for the PIF to be added to the G20’s permanent guest list of invitees. At present, these invitees include international organisations such as the United Nations, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AUDA-NEPAD), and the OECD. The PIF’s participation will boost the Pacific Island states collective climate advocacy on the international stage and give it a substantial voice on global climate change issues that affect the Pacific. This aligns with Wong’s foreign policy priority of amplifying the collective Pacific voice on the international stage. Additionally, it will give Australia’s climate advocacy and leadership further legitimacy and weight within the G20.

Canberra should also get behind the Brazilian Presidency and support reforms for easing direct access to critical global green funds for the world’s most climate vulnerable countries. Of course, Pacific Island countries strongly prefer and advocate for direct access to global green funds. For instance, Pacific nations have found it challenging to get direct and fast access to the GCF. Pacific Island states believe that the easing of direct access requirements will ensure greater country control of essential green funds, in turn enabling them to rapidly build their own climate adaptation capacities and ensure that the needs of vulnerable Pacific Island communities are met.

Ultimately, Australia can harness its Pacific leadership and G20 membership to promote Pacific representation in international organisations and champion reforms in green financing. In the long term, this could advance and strengthen regional resilience to climate change in Australia’s immediate region.

Ridvan Kilic is a recent graduate of the Master of International Relations course at La Trobe University. He is a Diploma of Indonesian student at Deakin University. His research interests include Australian foreign policy, the Australia-Indonesia bilateral relationship, the ASEAN-Australia relationship, ASEAN, and Indonesian foreign policy. Ridvan’s primary focus is Australia, Indonesia, ASEAN regionalism, and the Indo-Pacific.

This article is published under a Creative Commons License and may be republished with attribution.