Australia's membership of the Pacific Island Forum should be "urgently reviewed" for possible sanctions or suspension over the Morrison government's pro-coal stance, says Anote Tong, a former president of Kiribati.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison's resistance to demands by forum leaders at last week's gathering in Tuvalu for a global ban on new coal-fired power plants and coal mines has also drawn criticism from Rachel Kyte, a special United Nations representative, who described support for the fossil fuel as "reckless and cruel".
Mr Tong, who has been an advocate for low-lying nations facing catastrophe as sea levels rise, said Fiji was suspended from the forum in 2009 "for not adhering to the rules", and Australia's behaviour was hardly better.
"It is supposed to be about the well-being of the members," Mr Tong told The Sun-Herald and Sunday Age. If one country causes harm to other nations, such as by fuelling climate change, "there should be sanctions".
He cited the recent approval of Adani's Carmichael coal mine, which potentially opens up a whole new coal province in Queensland, as an example of "ignoring the science that's coming forward".
Mr Tong said he had not attended the event in Tuvalu but had followed developments. These included comments from Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who described Mr Morrison as "very insulting and condescending", according to The Guardian.
Mr Morrison pledged half a billion dollars in aid – some of it new – before the Pacific gathering. He had also hoped to shore up support for Australia in a region where China's economic and strategic reach is expanding.
"The [Pacific] nations don't always see China as a threat, nor do they see it as a big a threat as climate change," Mr Tong said.
Kiribati's 32 islands, spread over an area about half the size of Australia, have an average height above sea level of just two metres. "Super tides are expected at the end of the month," Mr Tong said.
Ms Kyte, a Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, said it was "unfortunate that even the stark reality of life on Tuvalu" – which also faces being inundated as seas rise – had failed to budge Mr Morrison on coal.