The issue will likely dominate this week’s Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ summit in Port Moresby, ahead of the United Nations climate change conference in Paris later in the year.
Pacific leaders want the world to work on restricting the global warming temperature rise to 1.5C, fearing a 2C target will risk the survival of many tiny islands.
Natural disaster recovery will be fresh on their minds. The summit starts on Monday, six months after Cyclone Pam, which flattened much of Vanuatu and caused heavy flooding on Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands.
Host nation Papua New Guinea is grappling with the opposite problem – what could be its worst drought in 20 years and a potential food crisis.
The prime minister, Peter O’Neill, has said El Niño conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of climate change.
The Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are also experiencing a dry spell.
Fiji’s prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, who is boycotting the summit and will instead send along his foreign minister, had a crack at Tony Abbott at last week’s meeting of his rival club of Pacific leaders – the Pacific Islands Development Forum – that excludes Australia.
He urged Abbott to abandon the “coalition of the selfish” and put the welfare of small Pacific Island neighbours ahead of coal industry interests.
The Abbott government has announced a carbon emissions reduction target of 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2030, which has been criticised for lacking ambition.
New Zealand’s target is a cut of 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.
The summit is expected to sign off on a joint climate change and disaster management strategy for the Pacific.
Climate change won’t be the only source of tension. New Zealand has suspended aid to Nauru’s justice system over the breakdown of the rule of law on the island nation.
On the sidelines PNG and Australia will also have plenty to discuss – Port Moresby recently banned vegetable imports, plans to boot out foreign public servants and is annoyed Australian police posted there can’t undertake frontline duties.
Other tensions surround a move to extradite three Australian former Manus Island detention centre guards accused of rape and, in the wake of a serious car crash, alcohol consumption by expatriate staff at the facility.
Australia will be pushing to tie down PNG on a timetable for giving refugees on Manus Island work rights and proper resettlement.
The Pacific Island Forum runs from 7-11 September.