Australian aid has the power to do so much good. 

Over the past year, Australian aid — the money used to fight extreme poverty, enhance stability and promote prosperity around the world — has made a life-saving difference for some of the globe’s most vulnerable people, communities and countries. 

Amid enhanced aid for COVID-19, which dominated national headlines, it is easy to forget Australia’s response to the climate crisis. 

In 2021, Australia worked with partners across the Asia-Pacific region to address climate change and fight emissions — responding with major aid packages and personnel to natural disasters, investing in renewable energy and building climate change and disaster resilience projects. 

While Australia has a long way to go to tackle its own environmental impact — and can always do more to help its neighbours limit global warming to under 1.5 degrees Celsius — we still thought it was important to look back at some of the times Australia helped countries in the region transition to low-emission, climate-resilient economies over the past 12 months. 

1. Fiji

In mid-December 2020, Tropical Cyclone Yasa made landfall on Fiji's main islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, destroying farms and thousands of homes, causing widespread electrical and infrastructural damage and leaving at least four people dead.

Almost 25,000 Fijians were forced to seek shelter across nearly 500 evacuation centres across the nation. 

Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama quickly linked the disaster to climate change.

"On this same day in 2012, Fiji was enduring Cyclone Evan. Since then, we’ve been battered by 12 more cyclones — two of which (Winston and Yasa) are now jockeying for our hemisphere’s strongest-ever storm in history,” Bainimarama wrote on Facebook. “This is not normal. This is a climate emergency.” 

In the days and weeks after the cyclone, Australia sent 600 Australian Defence Force personnel to “refurbish schools, clear roads and distribute clean drinking water as well as food and hygiene kits.” In total, Australia helped repair 32 schools in time for the start of the school year, delivered 165 tonnes of relief supplies and distributed 918,000 litres of clean drinking water.

A $4.5 million package of assistance was also announced. 

2. Timor-Leste and Indonesia 

Catastrophic floods and landslides swept Timor-Leste and Indonesia in April as a result of Tropical Cyclone Seroja. 

Around 10,000 people had to leave their homes and find shelter at temporary centres across the two neighbouring countries. The entirety of Timor-Leste lost power, and bridges, riverbanks, homes, schools and businesses were destroyed. Close to 300 people died.

Upon a request for help from the Timor-Leste Government, Australia pledged $7 million in emergency relief

The funds helped provide personal protective equipment, emergency relief materials, financial assistance to those working on the ground and support for the World Food Programme, which was working to address local food supply shortages. Australia also offered immediate on the ground support to thousands in the capital of Dili and helped restore power to critical buildings. 

3. Solomon Islands

In June, Australia signed a historic agreement to provide reliable electricity for the Solomon Islands.  

The agreement will see Australia help construct the 22-kilometre Tina River Hydropower Project, which, according to Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne, will "help provide reliable electricity for more people in the Solomon Islands, alleviating pressure on household incomes and providing opportunities for improved government and community services."

Australian High Commissioner to the Solomon Islands Lachlan Strahan said the project would be vital in the climate fight. 

"Renewable energy is a critical part of our collective response to combating climate change,” Strahan said in a post written by the project's communications consultant. “Once it is operational, Tina River will be making its own important contribution to keeping emissions down.”

In the Solomon Islands, just 16% of households are connected to the electrical grid.

Research suggests that, as climate change accelerates, electrical systems worldwide will have to endure more regular and extreme weather events, increasing the likelihood that outdated electrical infrastructure will fail. Power outages during severe weather events are thought to deepen existing inequalities, leaving the already vulnerable without heat and other essentials during floods, storms, cyclones and rising temperatures.

4. Palau 

Just last week, Payne announced Australia would provide new infrastructure funding for a “landmark” solar energy project in Palau — a tiny island country with a population of just 18,000 in the western Pacific. The funds stem from the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific

"This solar project will deliver approximately 20% of Palau’s energy requirements through clean, green renewable energy and is a step toward energy self-sufficiency for the country. This project meets a critical infrastructure need and advances climate resilience in our Blue Pacific,” Payne wrote on Facebook. “We are proud to partner with Solar Pacific Pristine Power and the Palau Government.” 

5. A Further Half A Billion for Climate Financing 

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged a further half a billion dollars to climate mitigation and adaptation efforts in the Asia-pacific region during his final speech at Glasgow's COP26 Summit in November. The pledge brings the nation’s climate financing commitment to $2 billion until 2025, double the previous five-year period. 

At least $700 million has been reserved exclusively for the Pacific. 

"Australia’s assistance will support Pacific and Southeast Asian countries to enhance climate resilience for future infrastructure investments, including roads, schools and bridges. It will also drive private-sector-led climate solutions that support clean technology, jobs and growth across our region,” Morrison said in a statement

Some of the projects supported by this new funding include an Australian Government and World Wildlife Fund partnership to advance nature-based solutions to climate change, sustainable forestry projects in Malaysia and Indonesia and long-term loans to enterprises working to achieve sustainable agricultural and land regeneration.

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