By Colin Packham
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia will require government departments to use more recycled products, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, while Canberra seeks to repair ties with Pacific island countries, despite the refusal to step up efforts in the global warming.
Morrison last year angered Pacific Islanders when he refused to strengthen Canberra's goal of reducing carbon emissions. The low-lying islands of the Pacific are at the forefront of climate change, fighting rising sea levels that have forced some residents to move to higher ground.
Australia's previous dominance in the region has been challenged by China in recent years, as Beijing has established stronger economic ties with small island nations and gained fame by calling for action to combat climate change.
However, Morrison said on Monday that Canberra will increase demand for recycled products, requiring government departments to buy recycled materials that could turn into marine debris.
"We are a continent surrounded by the ocean. Our waterways are our lifeblood. The same goes for the Pacific family … this is such a problem for our part of the world," Morrison said in a speech in Canberra.
In the Pacific, "we have floating plastic waste that is almost three times the size of France," said Morrison.
"Our Pacific family did not cause this problem, but they have to deal with the impacts of it on their fisheries, wildlife and islands. We are suffocating our oceans."
Australia recycles only 12% of plastics consumed locally, according to government data.
The policy will also help Morrison in the country after he came under pressure on government environmental policies after a devastating fire season that killed 33 people and burned a vast area of the country.
Morrison fueled widespread public anger by refusing to directly link fires to climate change, insisting that removing flammable vegetation is "just as important, if not more."
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Richard Pullin)