Obama pushes Asia security, climate action at G-20 summit in Brisbane

Australia stuck to economics despite US president’s attempts to elevate topic of global warming

President Barack Obama placed Asia security and climate change at the top of the agenda as the G-20 summit commenced Saturday in Brisbane, Australia.

He renewed his commitment to a strategic pivot toward a more Asia-Pacific-focused foreign policy for the United Sates as the two-day summit began. The president insisted the region’s security must be based not on “coercion or intimidation … where big nations bully the small, but on alliances for mutual security.”

The comments could be taken as a veiled warning to China, with Obama alluding to Beijing’s actions over disputed islands in the South China Sea and growing concern over its military buildup.

Obama also urged greater action on the environment, lauding the recent Chinese-U.S. accord on new targets for greenhouse gases and urging greater cooperation among nations negotiating a global treaty to be signed in 2015.

“Setting up a target sends a powerful message to the world that all countries — whether you are a developed country, a developing country or somewhere in between — you’ve got to be able to overcome old divides, look squarely at the science and reach a strong global climate agreement next year,” Obama told students at the University of Queensland.

The comments came despite Australia’s reluctance to allow the topic of climate change on the G-20 agenda. Canberra took a turn toward climate change denial last year when the conservative Tony Abbott became prime minister last year. Abbott has declared coal “good for humanity” and recently abolished a tax on carbon emissions.

In Brisbane, Obama pledged $3 billion to an international fund meant to help poor countries cope with the effects of global warming. Despite Abbott’s celebration of coal, residents of nearby Pacific island nations say climate change is threatening their very existence.

Last month environmental activists and Pacific islanders attempted to block the world’s largest coal export terminal in eastern Australia by forming a blockade of canoes, surfboards and kayaks. They said the burning of coal and other fossil fuels contribute to climate change, causing sea levels to rise and posing an existential threat to their islands. Scientists have predicted a 7-foot rise in sea levels by the end of the century unless preventive action is taken.

In the Marshall Islands, residents watched as the largest ever king tides washed through the streets of the capital, Majuro, earlier this year while its northern atolls experienced a severe drought. President Christopher Loeak warned world leaders ahead of September’s United Nations Climate Summit in New York that his nation is the “canary in the coal mine” and what they have seen is merely a taste of what other countries will soon experience.

Despite Obama’s efforts to elevate the topic of climate change, Australia stuck to its economic script. Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey said a plan was on track to increase global economic growth by an additional 2 percentage points over the next five years.

“This ambition translates into about $2 trillion in additional global economic activity and millions of new jobs,” he said. The two-day summit gathered leaders from the world’s strongest economies, with the 19 member countries accounting for 80 percent of world trade and 85 percent of global economic production. 

With wire services

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