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Australia is acting on the Pacific climate threat

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne has defended Australia's record on climate change following warnings from Chief of the Defence Force Angus Campbell that China could seek to occupy abandoned islands in the Pacific Ocean.

Senator Payne said the Morrison government took seriously the concerns of Pacific nations who fear rising sea levels and more intense natural disasters will make their homelands unliveable.

She said Australia was a signatory to the Boe Declaration with other Pacific Island nations, which affirms that climate change is the single greatest threat to the livelihood and security of the region.

“We are very focused on our engagement in climate on the region and in a practical way,” she told the ABC.

The Australian Financial Review revealed on Monday General Campbell used a private speech to a forum on security to say climate change would have "serious ramifications" for global security and the Defence Force.

While he did not name China, General Campbell said smaller abandoned islands could be seized for territorial expansion.

“If other states see the opportunity to occupy uninhabited spaces then it could introduce new tension into our region,” he reportedly said.

In response, Payne noted at the Pacific Islands Forum in 2018 Australia had signed the Boe Declaration, which she said “identifies climate change clearly as a key security issue”.

Separately, internal Defence Department briefing notes obtained under Freedom of Information by the ABC say the navy may be forced to increase patrols in Australia's northern waters because of an influx of climate refugees.

Australia is locked in a race for regional influence with China, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison had announced a “Pacific step up” policy to strengthen defence and diplomatic ties, including developing a joint naval base with the US on Manus Island.

At the same time, Morrison has publicly pushed back against calls from conservative MPs for Australia to withdraw from the Paris climate change pact in part because of the Pacific's alarm over climate change.

China has been keen to get a military foothold in the Pacific, and its Defence Minister last week declared an intent to increase defence cooperation with the region under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, despite its supposed focus on infrastructure and economic development.

Senator Payne said Australia's infrastructure fund in the Pacific would “stream climate adaptation and resilience through its investments in energy, in transport, in communications and in water reflects that priority we place on these issues.

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