TUVALU'S ambassador on climate change has asked the Hunter region to "connect the dots" between expanding coal production in Australia and the small Pacific Island country's existential threat from rising sea levels.
Australian academic Dr Ian Fry, who has worked with the Tuvalu Government for 21 years, said Tuvalu was using international Green Climate Fund money to build coastal defences against storm surges while new coal mines and mine expansion plans are considered in the Hunter.
"The issue is that what happens here in the Hunter region is directly affecting the lives of the people of Tuvalu. These dots have got to be connected," Dr Fry said on Monday before speaking at a University of Newcastle public seminar following the Pacific Islands Forum at Tuvalu in August.
Dr Fry, who attended the forum, said the Pacific Island nations were "deeply disappointed" by Australia's attitude to Pacific Island leaders' requests for Australia to stop new coal mines, and the representation of those requests as demands to shut down the coal industry.
While the smaller nation leaders "weren't overly optimistic" about Australia's response to tougher calls from the Pacific Islands to curb coal expansion, "we had hoped for more substantive outcomes" from the forum, Dr Fry said.
"The Tuvalu Government was hoping for a stronger commitment from Australia," he said.
Dr Fry said Tuvalu's Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga and Prime Minister Scott Morrison had "a significant interchange" and "a serious confrontation" over the language of the forum's final communique.
Dr Fry said Mr Morrison said the final communique could not include references to phasing out coal, which Mr Sopoaga strongly challenged after United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres in May visited the Tuvalu and other Pacific Island nations.
During his visit Mr Guterres said "governments that are still causing the problems that affect Tuvalu, understand that they need to change".
Climate change was "striking in Tuvalu in a more dramatic way than anywhere else in the world", Mr Guterres said.
Dr Fry said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern negotiated a compromise which substituted "fossil fuels" for the word coal in the communique. Mr Morrison eventually signed a communique that commits Australia to pursuing efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees and produce a 2050 strategy for net zero emissions by 2020.
Dr Fry criticised Australia's refusal to contribute to the international Green Climate Fund to help countries affected by climate change impacts to deal with them. Tuvalu is using $50 million from the Green Climate Fund to build coastal protection works on three of its nine islands, although such systems on coral atolls was "a challenge", he said.
Dr Fry also criticised the $500 million announced by Mr Morrison during the forum, saying it was "re-badged from existing funding" and a large percentage was spent in Australia on consultant works.
Dr Fry said the Pacific Islands Forum had "hurt Australia in the region" and internationally because there was "a lot of sympathy around the world for the Pacific Islands".
"Reports of Australia's stand internationally have shown Australia in a very bad light. It is going to be more difficult for Australia to hold that line in future," he said.
The next test is the United Nations Climate Action Summit from September 23, where countries will be required to report on their strategies to meet the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.
Dr Fry said Australia demonstrated "a general paranoia" about the Chinese Government's activities in the Pacific Islands but in his experience the Pacific Island leaders were "well aware of China's role in the region strategically, but also in the context of climate change".
"I think Australia is trying to steer the discussion around to paranoia about China as a distraction away from climate change," he said.
In response to questions Mr Morrison said the $500 million for renewable energy in the Pacific and to help "its climate change and disaster resilience builds on the $300 million for 2016-2020".
"This highlights our commitment to not just meeting our emissions reduction obligations at home but supporting our neighbours and friends," Mr Morrison said.
"Our commitments to support the Pacific highlight the meaningful action we're taking to live up to our role as signatories to the Boe Declaration 2018 and the Kainaki II Declaration 2019, which outline the threat climate change poses to the Pacific.
"The Pacific is our home, which we share as a family of nations. We're here to work with our Pacific partners to confront the potential challenges they face in the years ahead."