The United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) was held in Johannesburg from 26 August to 4 September 2002, and was a major world event. The Summit was attended by over 20,000 people, including 9,000 delegates and 104 Heads of State or Government, such as Britain's Tony Blair, Japan's Junichiro Koizumi, Germany's Gerhard Schroeder, European Commission President Romano Prodi, China's Zhu Rongji, France's Jacques Chirac, Indonesia's Megawati Soekarnoputri and Canada's Jean Chretien.
The WSSD addressed all aspects of sustainable development, with the major focus on poverty and development. There was widespread agreement that environmental degradation is a concomitant of poverty and cannot be satisfactorily addressed until poverty itself is addressed.
Led by the Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, Australia's official delegation included the Shadow Minister for Environment, Kelvin Thomson, officers from six Commonwealth agencies, the Western Australian Minister for the Environment, Judy Edwards and the Australian Capital Territory Minister for the Environment, Bill Wood, as well as State and Local Government representatives, industry, NGOs and a youth representative.
Many Australians attended the Summit in other capacities, with the largest contingent being about 45 from local government.
While government officials concentrated on formal negotiations, other members of our delegation were involved in a plethora of side events bringing together opinion leaders from industry, academia, government, and NGOs.
Australia also promoted our sustainable development policies, programs and objectives with a display at the associated Ubuntu Village exhibition. Thousands of people, including international delegates and local visitors, visited the display and officials disseminated scores of fact sheets and information material each day.
There were three major outcomes from the Summit:
- the negotiated Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI) (PDF - 205 KB);
- the Political Declaration; and
- partnership agreements.
Australia made a constructive contribution to the negotiations, achieving positive outcomes in our particular interest areas of oceans, trade, governance and energy. Aiming for practical solutions rather than just words, our delegation worked closely with both developed countries and developing countries through the Group of 77 and China, to address these issues in a way that would achieve real results.
The national statements of heads of state and government and ministers focussed on poverty, food, water, sanitation, affordable energy, climate change, HIV/AIDS, and the importance of trade liberalization, especially subsidy reform, as a means of generating the resource flows needed for sustainable development.
Australia was very pleased with the success of our neighbours, the Pacific Island Countries (PICs), in focussing world attention on issues of concern to them, particularly the issue of sustainable oceans management. The inclusion of a chapter in the Plan of Implementation on small island developing states was a significant outcome for the PICs and was strongly endorsed by Australia.
Significant outcomes for Australia included:
- Inclusion in the plan of implementation of a section that recognises oceans as an essential component of the Earth's ecosystem and sets an ambitious forward agenda for conserving marine biodiversity, protecting vulnerable areas such as coral reefs and wetlands, reducing marine pollution and eliminating illegal fishing;
- A hard-fought section on energy that achieves a balance between issues of access to energy for the poor and encouragement for greater use of renewables; and
- Reinforcement of outcomes from the international meetings on trade and finance at Doha and Monterrey, and strong support for the contribution of trade liberalization to sustainable development and poverty alleviation (with agricultural and environmentally damaging subsidies gaining their share of attention in that context).
On globalization, Australia fought hard and largely successfully to gain recognition that greater openness and integration of trade and investment is fundamental to generating the resources necessary to achieve poverty reduction and the internationally agreed development goals. Good national level governance is also endorsed in the plan as an essential underpinning for sustainable development.
A very practical outcome from the Summit was partnerships set up between various governments, businesses and NGOs. These partnerships are a commitment to take on-the-ground action to assist in the implementation of the JPOI.
Australia announced its active involvement in 15 of these global and regional partnerships at WSSD, and has continued to sign up to partnerships since, now being involved in over twenty partnerships. Australia's oceans partnerships attracted particular interest in Johannesburg, especially among countries of the region. Australia is keen to ensure a long-term focus on partnerships as central to achieving the change required for sustainable development, and will continue to look for opportunities to contribute to the WSSD outcomes in this way.
This builds on Australia's commitment to development assistance and poverty reduction, particularly in our region, through our overseas aid program. Our partnerships involve more than 50 countries and scores of international, national and regional bodies and are expected to have an impact, particularly in assisting developing countries in the Asia Pacific region. They cover energy efficiency, climate change, air pollution, sustainable agriculture, marine biodiversity conservation, migratory species, illegal fishing and HIV/AIDS.
The networks that were built and strengthened at the Summit between business, government representatives and civil society were in many ways as important as the formal negotiations and the voluntary partnerships.
The Summit reinforced business commitment to sustainability generally through such mechanisms as triple bottom line reporting and product stewardship while the Australian environment industry welcomed Summit outcomes as an opportunity to deliver beneficial solutions to global problems while also delivering the objectives of the Government's Environment Industry Action Agenda.
The strength of the local government presence at WSSD (750 delegates at a four-day parallel event) was a significant difference from the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Local government is seeking greater recognition in the UN system and involvement in both policy and implementation. Representatives from sub-regional governments (province, state) met and agreed to establish an international regional government network for information exchange and advancing the role of sub-national governments in implementation of sustainable development.
NGOs and related civil society groups were present in large numbers, with a variety of messages and interests to advance both at their separate events and at the Government negotiations. Generally environment NGOs indicated disappointment with the outcomes of the process, but Australian government delegates worked constructively with the Australian NGOs, which were represented on the delegation and provided liaison with other groups.
A separate youth caucus was vocal on a range of issues including education, employment, governance, finance and trade and energy. A particular focus was the use of online discussion and the establishment of online coordination for future youth environmental activities.
In the lead-up to the Summit, there were a series of international preparatory meetings, which prepared the agenda and draft program of action to be negotiated by leaders. Officers from the Department of the Environment and Heritage participated at each of these meetings as part of Australia's delegation, which included representatives from other Commonwealth Departments (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; the Australian Agency for International Development; Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Australia; Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources) as well as from State/Territory and Local Government, business, environment and development NGOs. The final Preparatory meeting before the WSSD itself was held in Bali from 27 May - 7 June 2002. The preparatory process also set in train a process to initiate the voluntary partnerships to implement sustainable development activities, involving both governments and non-governmental partners.
In August 2001, the Commonwealth Government released a discussion paper, which provided context and ideas for initiating discussion. Public views on the position and initiatives which Australia might pursue at the WSSD were sought on the basis of the discussion paper. Approximately thirty written submissions were received.
The Commonwealth Government also held a series of consultation fora for stakeholders in State and Territory capitals, as part of the consultation process. Attendance at these meetings was open to all interested members of the public. The first round of consultation fora were held between 27 August and 3 September 2001. A second round of fora was held between 15 April and 3 May 2002.
In March 2002, an information paper was released to update stakeholders on the status of the preparatory process.
'Sustaining Our Communities' - International Local Agenda 21 Conference
At the end of the global preparatory process for the WSSD, the Preparatory Committee transmitted a draft political declaration and a draft program of action for consideration by the leaders attending the Summit. Australia's response to these draft documents was informed, inter alia, by the outcomes of the domestic consultation process. 'Sustaining Our Communities' - International Local Agenda 21 Conference The 'Sustaining our Communities': International Local Agenda 21 Conference was held in Adelaide from 3-6 March 2002. This conference provided a forum to discuss approaches to sustainable development at the local government and community level and influence Australia's input to the WSSD in September 2002. As part of the public consultation process the Department provided feedback on the various preparatory meetings and Australia's preparations.
- The Discussion Paper, Information Paper, summaries of submissions, and feedback updates are available in our online archive
Australia developed two major documents on its progress in implementation of sustainable development for the Summit, which can be accessed below.
Australia has a proud record of international achievement over the past decade. We are world leaders on protection of whales, migratory marine and bird species and coral reefs.
We have taken the lead internationally in recent times in promoting the need for better conservation and management of the biodiversity of the deep oceans and high seas.
Australia has pledged to provide over $68 million to the Global Environment Facility over three years to help developing countries address key environmental problems -the largest percentage increase by any country for this period.
In environmental terms there is still a great deal to be done to address Australia's sustainable development challenges - particularly the crisis created by salinity and declining water quality.
Sustainable development issues now lie at the heart of Australia's national policy development. It has become core business.
One of our greatest achievements since Rio is that we have a far greater understanding of these challenges, with five-yearly reports on the State of the Environment.
At the same time, national roles and responsibilities for the environment have been clarified, getting rid of a lot of the uncertainty and duplication that held us back from real reform.
National environment legislation has been integrated and strengthened in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - the EPBC Act.
We have goals and strategies for ecologically sustainable development - the Natural Heritage Trust, COAG Water Reform, the COAG Salinity and Water Quality Action Plan, the National Greenhouse Strategy, the National Oceans Policy, and Regional Forest Agreements are just a few.
Australia's involvement in the Summit reinforced our commitment to achieving sustainable development at a global, national and local level.