The Morrison government has committed to spend $500m on climate change and disaster resilience in the Pacific.
The announcement – on top of an existing commitment of $300m for 2016-2020 – marks a significant shift from the Abbott government, which was criticised by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for decreasing the emphasis on climate change in the aid program. In a statement the Morrison government said the $500m will “be used to invest in renewable energy, ensure new infrastructure can withstand disasters and ensure health services are well positioned to respond to changing needs”.
Previous investments have included:
- ensuring roads and bridges are more resilient to extreme weather in Papua New Guinea so people have access to markets and can visit their families during times of disaster
- the Tina River Hydropower project to provide power to most of Honiara in the Solomon Islands
- building climate resilient schools in Kiribati
The government has set aside $140m of the $500m for the Australian private sector mobilisation climate fund to encourage private sector investments in low emissions, climate-resilient solutions for the Pacific and south-east Asia.
At a press conference on Tuesday, the minister for international development and the Pacific, Alex Hawke, confirmed that the $500m will be drawn from the aid budget which “is staying the same”.
Hawke said that “for the first time we’re going to spend more of the budget on climate projects, this is the most that any Australian government has ever spent” on climate change in the aid budget.
“The aid budget works in a number of ways, we’ll be reprioritising some of those needs over time.
“Much of the funds that we are using through the aid budget is to leverage more private sector investment.” The shadow minister, Pat Conroy, said the $500m “is meaningless without Australia taking real action on climate change”.
“This is cynical window dressing that does nothing to address the existential threat Pacific Islands face from climate change,” he said.
“Nor is it a new investment – it is money diverted from the already stretched aid budget which has been cut by more than $11bn under the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government.”
The Greens spokesman, Adam Bandt, said “this $500m isn’t new, it’s a dodgy accounting trick that does nothing more than move money about within our already scandalously small aid budget”.
Dfat’s review of the quality of Australia’s climate change assistance – published in July 2018 – found that of the 26 investments worth $642m evaluated, just nine (35%) “are likely to achieve, significant, climate relevant outcomes relative to their size and scope”. “A further nine investments have achieved, or are likely to achieve, some modest, climate-relevant outcomes,” it said.
Adaptation measures had benefits including: better use of data for adaptation and risk planning, more integrated planning, legislative and policy changes, community awareness and better tools to manage the risks and plan for climate change effects.
The benefits of mitigation were “less evident” but included: encouraging the uptake of solar, wind, hydropower and off-grid energy to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels.
The evaluation found that reporting of climate change results was often “inadequate and inconsistent … [particularly] where climate change was not the primary objective of the investment”.
Dfat blamed in part “a loss of climate-specific expertise from the aid program as funding and priorities changed” after the election of the Abbott government in 2013, including climate change investments being rebranded as food security, water security or disaster preparedness measures.