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The hottest June in history was recorded in 2019. In the same month, a select few of highly industrialized and oil-producing nations, including the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, dismissed the most recent findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The document outlines the impact of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and warns that the world is en route to hitting this gloomy milestone as early as 2030.

While these world powers and industrial polluters turn a deaf ear to the climate change crisis, the looming threat of poses an even more immediate danger to many island nations. Nowhere on earth are the impacts of climate change more imminent than in the coastal communities in countries such as the Solomon Islands and Fiji where communities are already threatened due to rising sea levels.

Island countries have not relaxed their fight against climate change. Discussions among leaders at the Pacific Islands Development Forum in 2015 created the Suva Declaration on Climate Change. Subsequent discussions at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris the same year emphasised Small Island Developing States (SIDS) as highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Over the past decade at various international events, island nations have leveraged bilateral and regional fora to draw attention to the severe impact they will face. Despite being the smallest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, SIDS have been among the loudest voices with many commending them for their moral leadership.

At last week’s gathering of leaders at the Pacific Island Forum, the tensions played out between SIDS and Australia, in this case serving as a proxy for policies of the wider Western world. This conversation is complicated even further in the Pacific by the growing presence of China in the region, a country which (at least on the surface) has been more open to listening and collaborating with Pacific leaders on climate action.

This tension with China led to Australia committing $500 million towards climate adaptation in the region. However, this money did not come with any commitments for the country to limit its own carbon emissions. Australia is clearly trying to counter China’s influence in the Pacific, and this shows the growing geopolitical importance of the region. However, the old tactic of pumping financial aid into the islands may no longer be enough to maintain influence if it is not accompanied by consistent climate action and commitment to the Paris Agreement.

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