Activists block Australian coal as leaders abandon the Pacific

Feature story - 6 August, 2009
As activists continue a two day blockade of a coal export terminal in Queensland, Australia, the outcome of the Pacific Islands Forum in nearby Cairns has left Pacific Islanders to fend for themselves against the increasingly devastating effects of climate change - because it's clear their rich neighbours are unlikely to help them.

Coal is the single biggest climate criminal

The coal blocking activists from countries including New Zealand, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Australia and the Cook Islands have been demanding that Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd (Australia) and John Key (New Zealand) stop putting the interests of big polluters over the future and the very survival of Pacific Islands.

Pacific Island leaders this week called for strong emissions reductiontargets of 45 percent by 2020 for developed countries and an ambitious global climate treaty aiming to limit global temperature rise to less than 1.5 °C. On Tuesday, the Small Island States leaders reiterated these demands at a press conference. But just two days later, not only have those demands vanished from the final communiqué, but the 2020 targets have also disappeared.

And instead of seeing an agreement on emissions cuts to fight climate change, the PacificIslands have received only promises to build higher sea walls against the rising tides caused by, amongst other things, Australian coal exports. This is yet another setback to the already shambolic negotiations process in the leadup to the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen.

It doesn't matter where this coal is burned, carbon pollution has no borders. Our homes are being devastated by climate change and we need genuine support from our Australian neighbours, not make-believe emissions cuts and empty gestures.

Sam, activist from Papua New Guinea speaking as he blocked the Abbot Point coal export

Coal or climate Kevin?

Aftering our activists spent 36 hours hanging off the Hay Point coal port, we sent our ship, Esperanza, to continue blocking the terminal. We have run three days of coal actions, including the complete shut down of the Abbot Point coal export terminal, to highlight the injustice of Australia and New Zealand abandoning their Pacific neighbours while throwing tax payer dollars at dying fossil fueled industries.

Coal exports to rise

Abbot Point coal export terminal is set to double in size, financed by more than AUS$328 million (198 million euros) of public money in 2009/10. This will add an extra 67.5 million tonnes of carbon pollution a year - equal to the annual carbon footprint of 2.4 million Australians. And even though the Hay Point coal export terminal is already one of the biggest in the world, it is now being expanded from 112 to 190 million tonnes per year.

The total capacity of Australia's coal exports will more than double from 332 to 730 millions tonnes per year. This expansion is a snub for the Pacific, and an economic and environmental disaster for Australia. By reinforcing Australia's position as the world's largest carbon dealer, Kevin Rudd continues to shun both his neighbours and common sense.

Falling short of weak targets

Let's be clear here: a global temperature rise of 2°C would still cause climate chaos in the Pacific. And if the world adopted the policies Kevin Rudd is implementing there is little chance of limiting temperature rise even to 2°C.

John Key is expected to announce New Zealand's 2020 targets on Monday, but they are likely to also fall way short of the at least 40 percent by 2020 required - a target set by the climate scientists and demanded by nearly 90,000 New Zealanders. We believe that temperature rise must peak as far below two degrees as possible, and to get back to much safer levels after that.

I can see more than 12 coal ships waiting to load coal behind me. There are mountains of coal. It is a bit overwhelming - tonnes and tonnes of it. Everything I see here means to me that there's one more family that will be affected, one more child that won't have the future they deserve.

Fenton, Fijian activist speaking while locked onto the Hay Point coal loader

The Esperanza, which continues to block the Hay Point coal terminal, has just finished a tour of several Pacific islands where the crew witnessed the impacts of climate change there first hand. They spoke to many Pacific people who are forced to deal with the changing environment on a daily basis. Now, in Australia - we're continuing to support the urgent Pacific call for world leaders to act now: to take personal responsibility for tackling climate change and guaranteeing a good deal for the climate in Copenhagen this December.

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Join the call for world leaders to personally attend the UN Climate Summit this December in Copenhagen - and ensure a good deal for the Pacific and the rest of the planet.

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