COP29: Australia’s relationship with Solomon Islands needs reset

Australian leaders have been urged to grasp a major opportunity to repair relations with the Solomon Islands and restore the country’s global reputation.

Australia could vastly improve its global reputation through hosting a UN climate summit jointly with Pacific Island nations, experts say.

Labor says if it wins the next election it will bid to host the 2024 COP29 in partnership with Pacific Island neighbours, “if they wish”.

The move could help improve relations with the region, particularly the Solomon Islands where Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare this week ramped up his criticisms of Australia following a controversial security deal between the Solomons and China.

In a wide-ranging tirade Mr Sogavare said references to his country as Australia’s “backyard” showed a lack of respect.

Scott Morrison has said he is looking to improve the relationship but admitted on Wednesday that he hadn’t been in contact with Mr Sogavare for several weeks.

A new report by think tank the Australia Institute into Australia’s possible hosting of COP29 showed doing so could greatly raise Australia’s standing internationally, particularly in light of recent diplomatic strains.

It suggested the Solomon Islands capital of Honiara could host pre-COP meetings in a demonstration of shared vision.

“The Australian government could extend an opportunity to fund preparatory UN meetings in the Pacific, including in Honiara,” lead author of the report and Australia Institute climate and energy director Richie Merzian said.

“The question is whether the Pacific, and the Solomon Islands in particular, want to partner with Australia.”

Australia is a signatory to the 2018 Boe declaration that names climate change as the single greatest threat to the Pacific Islands.

Despite this, Australia has been seen as failing to take the threat seriously both domestically and abroad.

Prior to last year’s COP26 held in Glasgow, Australia was condemned for falling well behind the efforts of other countries working towards firm targets to reduce emissions.

In the wake of global pressure, the Coalition government implemented a target of net zero emissions by 2050, albeit relying largely on industry and the actions of other governments to get there.

While the benefits of hosting COP29 would be manifold, the report concluded, it would require Australia getting more serious about climate change.

“For Australia to credibly host a COP it must also improve its climate policies and this has to include rejoining the UN’s Green Climate Fund and addressing its ever growing fossil fuel production,” Mr Merzian said.

The United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP) is the biggest event in the UN calendar with more than 20,000 participants expected in 2024.

According to the report, Australia’s international reputation at events such as COP is one of “supporting the continued use of fossil fuels and exploiting loopholes in the international climate negotiations to avoid reducing emissions”.

“Taking up the office of president for the 2024 international climate negotiations would be a chance to redeem Australia’s climate reputation. It would bring Australia in line with its allies, the United Kingdom and the United States,” the report said.

“Prioritising climate change and drawing on respective strengths in partnership with Pacific Island countries will reap benefits for a more secure and aligned region.”

Originally published as Australia offered chance to fix global reputation and regional relations

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