Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama (Image: AAP/Dan Himbrechts)

A category five tropical cyclone is predicted to threaten 95% of Fiji’s population in coming days. And Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has wasted no time in linking Cyclone Yasa — and other recent cyclones — to climate change.

“As the world is getting warmer these storms are getting stronger. Every one of us must treat these climate-fuelled catastrophes with deadly seriousness,” he said in a Facebook video.

Cyclone Yasa is expected to make landfall later today with winds of up to 250km/h and torrential rain. 

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Fiji’s leader has received international awards for his work on climate change and been praised for his leadership on environmental matters. Compare that to Australia, where our leader went on holidays during disastrous bushfires and is reluctant to commit to climate goals.

‘This is not normal’ v ‘not a credible suggestion’

Bainimarama compared photos of the government meeting during Cyclone Evan in 2012 and today, saying the country had been battered by 12 cyclones since then.

“Two of which (Winston and Yasa) are now jockeying for our hemisphere’s strongest-ever storm in history,” he wrote. “This is not normal. This is a climate emergency.”

As fires tore across Australia from July last year, reaching catastrophic levels in November, our Prime Minister Scott Morrison stayed quiet on the link to climate change.

It wasn’t until December 12, the day after thousands rallied in Sydney to protest inaction on climate change, that Morrison acknowledged the link between last summer’s fires and climate change.

Just a few days after making those comments, Morrison left for a holiday to Hawaii. On his return, Morrison said while that climate change was contributing to changing weather patterns, he denied that it had directly caused Australia’s bushfires.

“It’s not a credible suggestion to make that link,” Morrison said.

Awarded honours v blocked from speaking

Over the weekend, the United Nations hosted a climate summit where Bainimarama was named a 2020 Champion of the Earth for his policy leadership.

Morrison was at the summit too — but was barred from speaking. Leaders with “ambitious” new commitments were invited to speak. Morrison was reportedly in line for a speaking slot, where he was going to announce Australia wouldn’t use Kyoto carryover credits in reaching the 2030 emissions target (something no other country ever planned to do).

Morrison dismissed the snub, saying climate and energy policy would be set in Australia’s national interest.

Former finance minister Mathias Cormann has also faced fierce opposition from prominent Australians during his campaign to be the next secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), with critics saying the Morrison government’s history on climate inaction makes him unsuitable for the role.

Gas-led recovery v real climate action

The pandemic set off a global recession, with countries struggling with slumped economies. Pacific nations were some of the hardest hit — yet their leaders still warned climate change “cannot and should not” take a back seat during recovery.

Bainimarama warned countries should not do “what is easy”.

The Morrison government pushed for a gas-led recovery, investing in gas supplies to push down power prices.

Life or death v ‘achievable’ goals

Fiji and scores of other countries is legislating goals to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Bainimarama has said the Pacific is the “canary in the coal mine”, and he would not let the region be the “sacrificial canary for coal-burning countries”.

Meanwhile, the Australian government has rejected adopting a zero-emissions by 2050 target, despite Morrison describing it as “achievable“. The goal has been adopted by all Australian states.

The Morrison government is also planning an inquiry to grill financial regulators and banks over plans to pull back on lending or insuring mining projects because of climate change.

‘Future in good hands’ v ‘peddling needless anxiety’

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has faced both praise and criticism from commentators around the world. Bainimarama praised Thunburg, along with young Fijian representatives, at the UN Youth Climate Summit.

“I thank God that Fiji’s future is in such good hands,” he said.

Meanwhile, Morrison responded to Thunburg’s speech by saying the climate change debate was subjecting Australian children to “needless anxiety”.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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