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Fijian prime minister calls on Australia to be 'far more ambitious' on climate

The Fijian prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, has called on Australia to be “far more ambitious” in reducing greenhouse gases, linking the climate crisis to extreme weather events in the Pacific including drought and bushfires in Australia.

On the final official day of his visit to Australia, Bainimarama nominated the “varied level of ambition when it comes to confronting the threat of climate change” as a key difference between the two countries and called for everyone to “unite behind the science” of limiting global heating to 1.5C.

Bainimarama’s visit follows his heavy criticism of Scott Morrison at the Pacific Islands Forum, where he said the Australian prime minister had insulted and alienated Pacific leaders over his failure to back stronger emissions targets.

In a speech at the Australian War College in Canberra, Bainimarama said Fiji was seeking “common ground” with Australia, praising the two countries’ shared values and thanking Australia for its support in the aftermath of cyclone Winston.

But Bainimarama said that nations – as with families – “only thrive when those living under the same roof are considerate of each other”, acting “in the collective interest of the household and not just their own”.

A “degree of frankness that might sometimes offend” is essential to preserving any relationship, he said.

“I understand that politics is the art of the possible. I understand the depth of feeling in coal-producing communities in Australia and the wider economic imperatives at state and federal level.

“But I also hope that we can eventually find more common ground in our vuvale [partnership] on the climate issue.

“Because it is the greatest threat to our security in the Pacific and for my own people, and other Pacific Islanders, the impacts are really starting to bite.

“Not only extreme weather events like Winston but the rising seas and changes to agriculture and fisheries that threaten our food security and our livelihoods.”

Bainimarama said that millions of Australians are also bearing the brunt of climate change, in recent bushfires, ongoing drought and severe water shortages.

He said the “steady deterioration in the state of the only planet we have” means that all nations need to be more ambitious in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

“We must all unite behind the science and the IPCC report that calls for the average global temperature to be capped at 1.5C above that of the pre-industrial age.”

Bainimarama called on Australia to “join us in stepping up our collective response to the climate threat”, including by putting the IPCC report back on the agenda at COP25 in Chile in December.

“Fiji and the other Pacific nations have already declared a crisis in our own region in the Kainaki II Declaration arising from last month’s meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu.

“This was the strongest declaration from the PIF on climate and we appreciate Australia’s support as a signatory to the declaration.”

Bainimarama suggested Australia could also help Fiji with renewable energy research, development and investment, reduce dependency on fossil fuels and increase carbon stocks through better management of landscapes and soils.

Guardian Australia reported last week that Morrison will not attend the upcoming UN climate action summit despite him being in America to visit the Trump administration at the time – sending the foreign minister, Marise Payne, instead – because speaking slots were reserved for countries announcing new emissions reduction targets or financial commitments to the UN Green Climate Fund.

On Sunday Labor’s climate spokesman, Mark Butler, recommitted to a target of net zero emissions by the middle of the century.

He warned the Coalition’s target of 26% reduction by 2030 is “unanimously regarded as grossly inadequate, [and is] consistent instead with more like 3C or 3.5C of global warming, which would be utterly catastrophic”.

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