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Publications archive - International Activities and Commitments

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Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Australia's report to the UNCSD - 1994

Implementation of Agenda 21
Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1994
ISBN 0 6422 0152 8

Part I - General information

Part I of Australia's 1994 National Report to the CSD deals with general information on national sustainable development planning and policies. Part II reports on the cross-sectoral issues of international cooperation, consumption patterns, international funding, technology transfer and capacity building. Part III concerns the sectoral issues of human health, human settlements, freshwater, toxic chemicals and hazardous wastes. The Introduction to the 1994 Report explains the process and background to the Report.

Index to Part I

1.1 National sustainable development strategies and plans

1.2 Institutional mechanisms

Involvement of NGOs

1.3 Progress achieved

1.4 Economic and social impact of environmental measures

1.5 Improving social conditions and environmental sustainability

1.6 Problems and constraints

l.6.1 Financing
1.6.2 Technology
1.6.3 Trade Conditions

1.7 Making trade and environment policies mutually supportive

1.8 Capacity to meet Agenda 21 objectives:

1.8.1 Human resources
1.8.2 Technological resources
1.8.3 Financial resources
1.8.4 Institutions


1.9 Priorities for external assistance for the implementation of Agenda 21

1.10 Implementation of commitments related to finance.

1.10.1 Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) as percentage of GNP
1.10.2 Debt relief
1.10.3 Main funding arrangements related to sustainable development
1.10.4 Financial support to environmental conventions

1.11 Effectiveness of international organisations, including international financial institutions

1.1 Information on national sustainable development strategies or plans, as well as policies and measures to meet the overall objectives of Agenda 21 and to follow up the recommendations of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED)

Australia has a number of key strategies in place to support ecologically sustainable development.

The principal and overarching strategy is the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development (NSESD). The NSESD seeks to address sustainable development issues from a distinctly Australian perspective. It sets out key principles and objectives as well as specific actions to be implemented by all sectors to move toward ecologically sustainable development. Its goals accord with many of the objectives and activities of Agenda 21.

The NSESD recognises as a core goal of government policy the need for 'development that improves the total quality of life, both now and in the future, in a way that maintains the ecological processes on which life depends'. In this way the NSESD indicates directions which should ensure that economic growth and environmental policy are mutually compatible.

The Australian Government initiated the process of developing the NSESD in 1990 in response to the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. The Strategy was endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments in December 1992. The NSESD process involved the establishment of nine working groups to examine major sectoral and cross-sectoral issues of particular importance for Australia. Representatives of all major groups participated in the working groups, including industry, trade unions, conservation and community groups, women and youth, in addition to all levels of government.

Other key strategies and programs which focus on the sectors being reviewed by the UN Commission on Sustainable Development in 1994 are:

The principles of ecologically sustainable development (ESD) underpin Australia's development cooperation program. This was first elaborated in the publication, Ecologically sustainable development in international development cooperation: An interim policy statement (Canberra, 1991) prepared by the Australian International Development Assistance Bureau (AIDAB), the Australian Government's overseas aid agency. This interim policy statement was reviewed in late 1993 and an updated policy statement is expected to be released in 1994 which will further integrate ESD into the development cooperation program. All development cooperation activities are screened for environmental impact and a comprehensive system of environmental assessment guidelines is in place to ensure that environmental assessment is a continuous element of aid planning and management. An annual environmental audit of the program is also conducted to provide feedback on the extent to which environmental concerns have been incorporated into aid activities as well as lessons for future practice.

Other major strategies which address sectors not being reviewed by the Commission on Sustainable Development in 1994, such as the National Greenhouse Response Strategy (NGRS) and the draft National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity, are also expected to have an impact on sectors such as freshwater and human settlements.

To address Agenda 21 at the local level, the Federal Government is funding a Local Agenda 21 project, part of which includes the preparation of information kits to assist local councils with implementing Agenda 21. The project will provide a guide and education campaign for the implementation of Agenda 21 by local government. This will require a comprehensive investigation of existing international and national work on Local Agenda 21 initiatives. Extensive consultation on the needs and assessments of practitioners at the local level forms an important part of this work. The project is due for completion by late April 1994.

1.2 Information on institutional mechanisms to address sustainable development issues at the national level, including information on the involvement of non-governmental sectors and major groups in such mechanisms.

(In particular, the CSD asks countries to provide information whether they had or consider setting up a national coordination structure responsible for the follow-up to Agenda 21 as recommended in its Paragraph 38.40)

Australia has three levels of government - Federal, State or Territories and local governments (see the map of Australia, showing State boundaries). All levels of government play a major role in addressing and implementing ESD initiatives and mechanisms are in place to bring together other organisations when discussing broader issues. This approach is favoured by the Australian Government because it focuses on the role of individual organisations rather than simply the process of coordination.

In order to accommodate the different spheres of government and other interests the three levels of government cooperate through various institutional mechanisms in order to address sustainable development issues.

Australia has developed a domestic Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment (IGAE) which defines the roles, responsibilities and interests of all levels of government in relation to the environment. The IGAE establishes an approach to environmental policy-making and program implementation which recognises the need for effective integration of economic and environmental considerations in decision-making processes. It provides the basis for a cooperative national approach for improved environmental management. It will lead to better definition of government roles and provides a series of broad environmental principles to guide government decision-making.

The IGAE facilitates this cooperation by providing for:

A further mechanism through which the different levels of Government operate is through Ministerial Councils. All jurisdictions cooperate through a peak Council of First Ministers called the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), which is comprised of the Prime Minister and the Premiers and Chief Ministers of the States and Territories. There are a range of Ministerial Councils dealing with particular Ministerial responsibilities including planning, forestry, fisheries, agriculture and natural resource management, industry and regional development and environmental matters. The Ministerial Councils often deal with issues which are common to, or overlap with, the responsibilities of other Ministerial Councils and they cooperate to develop national and whole-of-Government views in such situations.

Environmental Impact Assessment legislation has been enacted by the Federal Government and most State governments and has the capacity to take account of a range of biophysical, health and social impacts. All major development proposals are potentially subject to some form of environmental impact assessment.

Involvement of NGOs

The Australian Government recognises the important role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and community groups in the development and implementation of ESD policies. As noted in section 1.1, NGO representatives were active members of the nine working groups set up to develop the NSESD.

After UNCED, the Federal Government established the Non-Governmental Organisations Consultative Forum on International Environmental Issues. The Forum meets biannually and comprises the three Federal Government Ministers responsible for Foreign Affairs, Environment, and Development Cooperation, the Ambassador for the Environment and representatives of seventeen major NGOs or councils. The NGO members include representatives of conservation and development groups, business, trade unions, professional organisations, women, youth and indigenous people.

A wide range of other mechanisms to consult NGOs on domestic policy formulation have been established in relation to specific issues. Examples are the AIDAB-NGO Quarterly Environment Consultations, and the regular meetings of peak conservation organisations with the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories.

NGOs are included on Australian Government delegations to most international environmental conferences or negotiations.

1.3 Assessment of progress achieved towards sustainable development. This will, where appropriate, be supplemented by statistical sheets or tables

The Australian Government considers that significant progress has been made at the national, sub-regional and local levels in developing a range of strategies and programs aimed at achieving ecologically sustainable development.

Pending the finalisation of a set of sustainable development indicators, currently being developed by the Federal Government as part of a new comprehensive state of the environment reporting process, it is difficult to provide measurable assessments of progress achieved towards the NSESD or Agenda 21 objectives.

1.4 Assessment of the impact of the environmental measures undertaken on the national economy, including information on the social impact of such measures

There has not been a systematic assessment of the impact of environmental measures as a whole on the national economy. In general, however, the policies adopted have been designed to minimise negative impacts on the market economy. While some environmental measures impose costs on some producers some companies also recognise that cleaner production methods can be cost-efficient. Activities to safeguard the environment also create profitable opportunities for environmental industries. In Australia, the size of the market for environment waste management equipment systems and services has been estimated by the OECD and the Australian Industry Commission at $A2.8 billion.

1.5 Information on policies adopted/developed that are aimed at the improvement of both social conditions and environmental sustainability

Australia is endeavouring to achieve a transition to more ecologically sustainable lifestyles through a range of specific issue strategies and programs such as the National Waste Minimisation and Recycling Strategy (3.4.2.d), the Cleaner Production Program, the National Water Quality Management Strategy (3.3.2) and the National Landcare Program, as well as the more broadly based approaches, such as the IGAE, NSESD. Most of these initiatives are expected to result in improved social conditions as well as greater environmental sustainability. These strategies, and in particular the NSESD, also recognise the principle of intragenerational and intergenerational equity in ensuring ecologically sustainable development.

1.6 Overall assessment of problems and constraints encountered, including those related to:

l.6.1 Financing

Australia's financing requirements for advancing ecologically sustainable development issues are considered within the budgetary context of individual governments each year. Activity is subject to budgetary priorities and constraints faced by Australian governments at all levels.

1.6.2 Technology

Key factors determining the rate of technology development and transfer are the presence of:

Australia has put in place policies and programs to promote these outcomes.

These policies and programs include support for research and for the development, commercialisation and transfer of technologies, including environmentally sound technologies which are capable of promoting ecologically sustainable development. Public sector funding support for these activities is considered within the budgetary context of individual governments each year.

Australia does not face the constraints which some other countries face in developing or otherwise gaining access to the technologies necessary to address natural resources management and environmental problems. For example, Australia is a dry continent and Australians have developed technology for living in arid areas, as well as substantial skills, knowledge and experience in the management of arid lands and associated resources.

Australia believes that a sound knowledge and understanding of the environment itself and of the impact which societies' activities have upon that environment is also essential if appropriate technologies are to be developed. Governments in Australia therefore also provide financial support for research of this nature with the level of funding again being determined within the budgetary processes of those governments each year.

1.6.3 Trade conditions

Australia relies on continued trade liberalisation and an open, non-discriminatory and predictable multilateral trading system based on trade rules to ensure access for its commodities in international markets. Although Australia has very low support levels for agriculture, its reforms have been undermined by low world prices stemming from other countries' agricultural support policies and by restrictions on market access.

Improved market access and the elimination of export subsidies are important to sustaining economic growth and Australia has been critical of agricultural trade policies - in particular subsidies - which encourage over-production and lead to lower international prices, and has been actively pursuing the liberalisation of agricultural policies in international trade forums such as the GATT.

1.7 Information on any measures undertaken to make trade and environment mutually supportive in favour of sustainable development

The Federal Government supports the view that trade liberalisation, complemented by appropriate environmental policies, can promote ESD by encouraging a more efficient use of resources. Through the phased removal of trade barriers, the Federal Government has encouraged structural change in the economy towards industries in which Australia has a comparative advantage and which it can, with the implementation of appropriate environmental measures, pursue in an ecologically sustainable manner.

Australia is at the forefront of the promotion of environmental goals through trade liberalisation and seeks to promote efficient production. In forums such as the GATT and the OECD, Australia has been critical of agricultural trade policies which tend to encourage over-production and the intensive application of inputs such as fertilisers and chemicals, which have adverse effects on the environment, including water quality. Australia's activities to make trade and environment mutually supportive, including participation in international discussion on policies to achieve this goal, are described in detail in Section 2.1.

Through various formal and informal mechanisms, the Government is engaged in dialogue with trade, development, environment and conservation groups in the elaboration of appropriate trade and environment policies.

1.8 Overall assessment of domestic capacity to meet Agenda 21 objectives, in particular in terms of:

1.8.1 Human resources

Australia is well endowed with skilled and educated human resources necessary to implement Agenda 21.

1.8.2 Technological resources

Australia has the technological expertise to address many of its most pressing environmental problems and believes that it can play a key role in transferring this expertise to other countries.

In addition to supporting technological development in the public sector, Australian governments are encouraging further technological innovation in industry to assist both competitiveness and implementation of more environmentally-sound manufacturing practice.

Australia has significant expertise in environmentally sound technologies in areas such as freshwater, clean coal, attention to waste minimisation and recycling technologies, and cleaner processes, which would be of assistance to other countries in addressing their environmental problems.

Cleaner production methods and improved environmental technology are providing encouraging results for Australian businesses and capitalise on an increased community awareness and support for better environmental practices.

1.8.3 Financial resources

The budgetary considerations of Australian governments will play a role in determining the pace of Agenda 21 implementation.

1.8.4 Institutions

Australia has a wide range of institutions, including professional, business, industry, conservation and development organisations, which have the capacity to play both a practical role and a role in monitoring the Government's implementation of Agenda 21.

1.9 Priorities for external assistance for the implementation of Agenda 21

Australia will not be seeking external financial or technical assistance to implement Agenda 21.

1.10 Information on the implementation of Agenda 21 commitments related to finance, including those related to:

1.10.1 Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) as percentage of GNP, as well as measures taken to achieve the United Nations target of 0.7% of GNP for ODA

In the 1993/94 fiscal year, Australia is to provide $A1.4 billion in overseas aid. This represents an ODA/GNP ratio of 0.35 %. Australia is committed to the UN ODA target of 0.7% of GNP for assistance to developing countries and is endeavouring to increase its ODA consistent with the needs of developing countries and its own economic circumstances and capacity to assist (see section 2.3).

1.10.2 Debt relief

Australia participates in the development of debt rescheduling programs of the Paris Club for the poorest heavily indebted countries pursuing structural adjustment (see section 2.3.2.a.).

1.10.3 Main funding arrangements related to sustainable development

Details of Australia's main funding arrangements for ESD are provided in Section 2.3 of this report.

1.10.4 Financial support to environmental conventions

Details of Australia's financial support to environmental conventions are provided in Section 2.3 of this report.

1.11 Assessments of the effectiveness of activities and projects of international organisations, including those of international financial institutions and funding mechanisms and specific assistance that might be provided by them

Australia considers the Inter-Agency Committee on Sustainable Development (IACSD) to have a critical responsibility in ensuring that the UN successfully adopts a coordinated, efficient, effective and timely approach to implementing Agenda 21. In view of the importance Australia attaches to this function, we commend the work of the IACSD in allocating responsibilities to specific organisations within the UN system to act as task managers for the coordinated follow-up to areas of Agenda 21. Australia encourages the adoption of concrete programs for the implementation of Agenda 21 based on the particular expertise of each organisation.

In Chapter 38 of Agenda 21, the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC) is identified as having a key role in overseeing system-wide co-ordination of UN activities to implement Agenda 21. Australia considers that there is scope for ECOSOC to take a more vigorous and pro active role to ensure that the work of its subsidiary bodies in relation to ecologically sustainable development is achieved with coherency in policy direction and minimal duplication.

Australia considers that the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has been generally effective in fulfilling its mandate as the principal environment program in the UN system. Australia looks forward to a targeted approach by the Secretariat in areas in which it has expertise, such as environmental law. UNEP should develop a coherent mandate for its regional offices which should cooperate with other international and regional bodies to avoid duplication of work. The outcome of the review of UNEP's regional and liaison offices, requested by the UNEP Governing Council in May 1993, will be important in this respect. This should accord appropriate priority to the Bangkok office so that adequate attention is paid to the Asia Pacific region.

Similarly, Australia anticipates focused activity by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in implementing the capacity building aspects of Agenda 21, strengthening the national coordination of post-UNCED activities, and strengthening the role of key social groups.

Australia welcomes the efforts made by the specialised agencies, such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), to address the objectives of Agenda 21 in a well targeted manner by focusing on a few critical issues which are of greatest concern and priority to their constituencies.

In relation to the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), there is a perception among some sub-regional groups, such as the Pacific Island countries, that ESCAP's resources have not been spread equitably through the region, including on environmental projects designed to implement ESCAP's regional strategy on environment and development. Australia has joined other ESCAP member countries in supporting a national and sub-regional approach to the implementation of ESD strategies, for example, through the South Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP) or the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) cooperation. Australia has supported efforts to have ESCAP direct more practical assistance to SPREP activities. There is potential for increased attention by ESCAP, including through SPREP, to capacity building and institutional strengthening of Pacific region NGOs.

Australia supports activities designed to promote closer coordination between the UN and the multilateral development banks (MDBs) in order to better focus international financial assistance on development programs that pursue the objectives of Agenda 21. The recent signing of a memorandum of understanding between ESCAP and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) aimed at improved information sharing is a valuable example. Australia continues to advocate that special priority be given to ESD as one of the cross-sectoral issues which needs to be integrated fully into projects funded by the international financial institutions and other related activities.

Australia supports the use of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to fund programs and projects to protect the global environment and in particular to operate the financial mechanisms of the Climate Change and Biological Diversity Conventions. Australia has been actively engaged in the negotiations to ensure that the GEF is appropriately restructured and its membership made universal with equitable and balanced representation within a transparent system of governance.

Australia has been a strong advocate and vocal supporter of efforts by the multilateral development banks to improve the management of the MDB-financed development projects and programs. In relation to the World Bank, Australia is supportive of the proposed program of 'Next-Steps' follow-up to the Wapenhans Report endorsed by the Board of Executive Directors to improve the performance of Bank activities and will carefully monitor the implementation of these proposals. Similarly, Australia has been an advocate of the ADB Task Force on project quality which is due to report shortly.

Australia seeks to contribute to the enhanced effectiveness of international organisations through its consistent pursuit of more coherent system-wide policy formulation in the UN system as well as efficient program delivery in operational areas.