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Behavior of Australia's Prime Minister at Pacific Islands Forum Makes Clear Climate Crisis Not A Priority

"Watered-down climate language has real consequences—like water-logged homes, schools, communities, and ancestral burial grounds."

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, middle, watered down a climate crisis resolution this week at the Pacific Islands Forum.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, middle, watered down a climate crisis resolution this week at the Pacific Islands Forum. (Image: screenshot)

The inability of the leaders of Pacific island nations to pass a resolution with strong language on the climate crisis reportedly reduced the prime minister of the archipelago nation of Tonga to tears.

After a week of negotiations, Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison used his influence and power to water down a climate resolution, the Tuvalu Declaration, at the Pacific Islands Forum, which wrapped in Tuvalu on Friday. The resolution was drafted by the Smaller Island States (SIS) group earlier in the week.

Tongan Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva cried during a presentation to the forum from youth climate activists showing the cost to the Pacific from insufficient action, said Tuvalu's Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga.

"The leader of Tonga actually shed tears in front of the leaders, because of the passion referring to the presentation from the two young warriors of climate change the other day," said Sopoaga during a press conference at the forum's conclusion.

Sopoaga criticized Morrison for Morrison's intransigence in the face of the crisis and refusal to cooperate with the smaller island nations at the conference. The two clashed repeatedly at the forum, The Guardian reported

Chief among Morrison's complaints was the declaration's call for a reduction in coal consumption. Australia relies on the dirty energy source. Language referring to a climate "crisis" was also removed, reportedly at Morrison's behest. 

"We tried our best," said Sopoaga, who delivered his remarks Friday while seated beside the Australian leader. 

For his part, Morrison said that while he understood the concerns of the smaller nations, his allegiance was to the Australian people and their economic interests.

"I am accountable to the Australian people," said Morrison. "That's who I'm accountable for."

Morrison added that he was not completely desensitized to the way the issue affected his peers at the forum.

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"I understand the deep sensitivities," said Morrison. 

That didn't fly for Greenpeace Pacific head Joseph Moeono-Kolio. 

"How does Morrison reconcile calling the Pacific family while he persistently ignores our demands for Australia to reduce its emissions?" said Moeono-Kolio.

But Morrison's comments and behavior drew criticism from other Pacific leaders and environmental groups. 

"I think we can say we should've done more work for our people," said Sopoaga.

Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama was similarly critical of the declaration's stymied content.

"Watered-down climate language has real consequences," said Bainimarama, "like water-logged homes, schools, communities, and ancestral burial grounds."

In a column on the forum for Pedestrian TV, writer Lavender Baj didn't hold back. 

"The Pacific Island Forum is over," wrote Baj. "That means ScoMo can't wear Hawaiian shirts anymore and can continue to not give half a shit about climate change."

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