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Empty Commitments: Turnbull’s Zero Gain Climate Finance Pledge

Empty Commitments: Turnbull’s Zero Gain Climate Finance Pledge

Whilst Turnbull’s language shift at Paris this week is encouraging, meeting the challenge of climate change takes more than switching line items in an Australian Aid budget. The sum of Turnbull’s actions produce zero gain for the world's most vulnerable. To secure our collective future, we need to increase both our ambition and investment.



Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week announced a $1 billion commitment by Australia to climate finance over the next five years. In his own words, the impetus for this action is because global warming is already being felt by our Pacific neighbours and its impacts will continue even after reaching net zero emissions, thus our “common cause” must become to “secure our future”.

This language is a welcome change from the divisive politics of just under six months ago. However, this is where the good news ends. Put simply, Australia’s $1 billion commitment to climate finance is not new money. It is coming from a chronically depleted Australian Aid budget.

The slashing of Australia’s Aid budget began under the ALP (then Government), in 2012 and has quickly become the least generous in Australia’s history. As a young person passionate about the diverse and good work of Australian Aid – this latest move has been disheartening to say the least.

Let’s take a moment to consider exactly what the Australian Aid budget does. Between 2013-14, with less than 1% of the total budget, Australian Aid enrolled 1.4 million children into schools, 900,000 births were supported by skilled birth attendants,  2.3 million children were given life-saving vaccinations, 14 million people were provided with conflict and crisis assistance, and 3 million people were supplied with increased access to safe drinking water. This is the work that builds community resilience, tackles the barriers of extreme poverty and work that all Australians can be proud of.

However, this is no time to rest on our laurels. The consequences of a damaged climate is now the greatest threat to progress on ending extreme poverty. The World Health Organization has said that left unchecked, climate change will push up to 100 million people into poverty – fuelling desperation, perpetuating exploitation, and aggravating conflict. Globally, we’re already seeing this play out. On the impacts of climate change on the Syrian refugee crisis, US secretary of state John Kerry said "It's not a coincidence that immediately prior to the civil war in Syria the country experienced its worst drought on record, as many as 1.5 million people migrated from Syria's farms to its cities, intensifying the political unrest that was just beginning to royal and boil in the region”. This is why climate change is described as a threat multiplier - because it allows injustices to combine aggravating the worst barriers of poverty.

Climate finance is funding that goes to the heart of this development threat. It not only helps communities adapt to the devastating impacts of rising tides or food insecurity, it is funds to help developing countries renew their economies by sustainable design pursuing clean, powerful paths to development.

At the recent United Nations Sustainable Development Summit, the world’s leaders committed to ending poverty in all its forms, everywhere. To do this, we must increase our investment in tackling the challenges of poverty and climate change. We need to restore funds to Australian Aid, and we need new and additional funds for climate finance. To take one from the other is a hollow statement, a difference in a budget line item - it lacks ambition, impact and positive outcomes for the world’s poor. We can’t end poverty without strong action on climate change. We can’t end poverty without investing in health and education, - the impact of Australian Aid.

Whilst Turnbull’s language shift at Paris this week is encouraging, meeting the challenge of climate change takes more than switching line items in an Australian Aid budget.  The sum of Turnbull’s actions produce zero gain for the world's most vulnerable. To secure our collective future, we need to increase both our ambition and investment.