Paris UN Climate Conference 2015: Julie Bishop to face music over island gaffe

Island confusion: Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Marsahll Islands Foreign Minister Tony de Brum pointing opposition leader Bill Shorten to where the island of Anebok had one been during recent trip to the Pacific. Photo: Tom Arup

What we’ve learnt so far in ParisAustralia backs target of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has landed at the Paris climate summit with some diplomatic smoothing to do after her Marshall Islands counterpart took issue over her making fun of suggestions islands in his country were disappearing due to climate change.

Ms Bishop is among ministers from across the globe arriving for the second and final week of the UN climate summit, where bureaucrats have been grappling with how to craft a global deal to tackle global warming.

After a fractured first week, negotiators on Saturday surprised some observers by delivering a draft version of a an agreement in good time and with reduced areas of dispute.

But negotiators for a number of countries conceded divisive topics – mostly centred around who should shoulder what amount of burden to tackle climate change – remained unresolved and would require intervention from ministers when they landed.

Before leaving Australia, Ms Bishop launched an attack in Parliament on her opposite number Tanya Plibersek, saying she had claimed an island in the Marshalls had disappeared when it was in fact still standing.

“You can rent a bungalow for $50 a night. It is in good condition, we’re told. There are houses, lawns, gardens, there is a toilet block and there are picnic tables,” Ms Bishop said.

But while Ms Bishop had based her attack on the island of Eneko, which does indeed exist, Ms Plibersek had instead been referring to Anebok, a separate island which the Marshall Islands government says has disappeared over the last decade or so.

Ms Bishop’s office later blamed an incorrect transcript of an interview Ms Plibersek had done on the ABC.

Responding on Saturday in Paris, Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony de Brum made reference to a past faux pas by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who had said time did not matter in the Pacific when “you’re, you know, about to have water lapping at your door.”

“Australia has not learnt that they should not mess with the islands, they should not make jokes about the islands and the climate change,” Mr de Brum said.

Minister de Brum said the spelling of the two islands was very close. He joked that “Australians have not spoken English in years” and probably did not know how to pronounce the names of the two islands.

He said on a recent visit to the Marshalls Ms Plibersek, along with other senior Labor politicians, had been taken by boat to where Anebok had used to be, but where now there are some rocks in the ocean. They had then gone on to Eneko to hold a press conference.

Fairfax Media had also been on that trip in November and can confirm those sequence of events.

“So I am sure when Minister Bishop arrives tomorrow we will have a chance to sort that out,” Mr de Brum said.

Fairfax Media is a partner of the United Nations Foundation

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