Kiribati President Tong warns of split in Forum over climate change

​Getting Australia and perhaps New Zealand too to leave the Pacific Islands Forum may be a way out for the regional body as it prepares to hold its annual summit of Pacific leaders this week.

Anote Tong, president of Kiribati, a member of the 16-member Pacific Islands Forum, told journalists who are in Port Moresby to cover the Forum Leaders summit that changes in Forum membership may be the way out of getting a uniform position on climate change.

Either Australia leave the Forum, or countries like his and perhaps that of the six other members of the Forum's smaller island states (SIS) exit the Forum membership.

Tong, whose attending his last Forum summit after serving his full maximum 12 years as President and is no longer entitled for another term under his country's constitution made this observation when asked about the varying positions on climate change among Forum member nations, in particular that of the 14 Pacific island nations versus the position of their bigger and wealthier members of Australia and New Zealand.

Just  Monday, Kiribati and its six SIS neighbours of Cook Islands, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau and Tuvalu called for a climate change position which will set carbon emission targets that will raise temperature to no more than 1.5 degrees Celcius.

This is the target shared by other small island states of the world that belongs to the COP 21 negotiating body called the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).

Annex one countries, or industrialised nations like Australia and New Zealand are pushing for targets of not less than 2 degrees.

Fresh in many minds of Forum observers was the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders summit in Cairns, Australia in 2009 when leaders reneged on their declared position and endorsed Australia's target of 2 degrees.

Getting Australia and New Zealand out of the Forum has been the constant call of Fiji's leader Voreqe Bainimarama, and he is staying away from this week's meeting because of this.

Through his direction, Fiji has established a regional body, the Pacific Islands Development Forum that excludes Australia and New Zealand in its membership.

At its annual summit in Fiji's capital last week which was also attended by President Tong, PIDF leaders called for a 1.5 degrees target in the lead up to a new climate change negotiation talks in Cop 21 in Paris in December 2015.