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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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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

2.1 - International cooperation

International cooperation to accelerate sustainable development in developing countries and related domestic policies - Chapter 2 of Agenda 21

2.1.1 Progress achieved

2.1.2 Main activities

Promoting ecologically sustainable development through trade liberalisation
Making trade and environment mutually supportive
Providing adequate financial resources to developing countries and dealing with international debt
Encouraging macroeconomic policies conducive to environment and development

Activities concerning the national economy
Activities under the development cooperation program

2.1.3 Experience gained

2.1.4 Problems and constraints

2.1.7 Expectations of international organisations

Introduction

Chapter 2 of Agenda 21 deals with the links between trade, development and the environment as well as provision of adequate financial resources to countries and the implementation of appropriate economic policies. The chapter's objectives encourage countries to ensure that trade and environment policies are made mutually supportive in favour of ecologically sustainable development.

2.1.1 Progress achieved to date in the implementation of objectives of Chapter 2 of Agenda 21

Australia has contributed to progress at the international level in promoting sustainable development through trade liberalisation and efforts to make trade and environment mutually supportive, including through its active involvement in the work of the GATT and OECD.

Australia was strongly committed to achieving a satisfactory completion of the Uruguay Round of GATT negotiations. Conclusion of the Round represented a major step in the promotion of an open, equitable and non-discriminatory multilateral trading system. Implementation of agreements reached in the Uruguay Round and further liberalisation of international trade will allow improvement of economic structures including the functioning of commodity markets. In conjunction with appropriate environmental policies, this will assist in optimising the contribution of the commodity sector to ESD through increased access for efficient producers to world markets.

Since UNCED, a number of working groups established by international organisations have made progress in examining the relationship between trade and environment policies and are continuing to explore ways of making these policies mutually supportive in favour of ESD. Australia has played an active part in this work, including in the finalisation of OECD procedural guidelines on the integration of trade and environment policies.

The Australian Government has made significant progress in implementing a broad range of macroeconomic and structural policies conducive to the achievement of ESD. It is also examining the use of economic instruments in linking economic and environmental goals at the national level. Progress has been made, for example, in addressing ways in which the System of National Accounts could be developed to incorporate estimates of the value of Australia's natural assets.

The Australian development cooperation program has for some years taken a systematic approach to addressing environmental issues. All aid 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. The aid agency, AIDAB, is soon to release its updated ESD policy statement which will further integrate ESD considerations into the planning and delivery of the development cooperation program.

2.1.2 The main activities undertaken or planned in order to achieve these objectives

Promoting ecologically sustainable development through trade liberalisation

Trade liberalisation, complemented by appropriate environmental policies, can promote ESD by encouraging a more efficient use of resources. Trade barriers tend to encourage non-sustainable production and consumption patterns, for example through excessive use of subsidised agricultural chemicals where subsidies exist to boost production.

Australia has actively promoted trade liberalisation in favour of an open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system, in particular through the Uruguay Round of GATT negotiations. In bilateral and multilateral forums, Australia played a key role in finalisation of the Uruguay Round. As chair of the Cairns Group, Australia was particularly active in urging liberalised and more predictable trade in agricultural commodities.

Australia supported the inclusion of a reference to sustainable development in the preambular text of the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) publication. Australia also supported the establishment of a trade and environment work program as part of the Uruguay Round outcome and will be an active participant in it.

Australia continues to be prominent in efforts to reform and revitalise the international trading system, to safeguard and increase access for all countries, including developing countries, to overseas markets.

Consistent with paragraph 2.10(a) of Agenda 21 calling for the reversal of protectionism to contribute to expansion of world trade, Australia continues to improve access to its markets by various approaches, including systematic reductions in tariffs. Australia has removed almost all quantitative import restrictions, tariff quotas and import licensing controls, providing greater opportunities for developing country producers to gain access to its markets.

Making trade and environment mutually supportive

Australia supports work underway in the OECD, GATT, UNEP, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and other bodies which seek to develop and apply methods for integrating economic and environmental policies.

Australia is actively involved in multilateral approaches to making trade and environment policies mutually supportive, particularly in the OECD's Joint Session of Trade and Environment Experts. Australia took an active part in the development of OECD guidelines for integrating trade and environment policies. The Government has assessed that some of the guidelines are already being implemented through existing policies, and is looking at ways of implementing the guidelines in full. The further development of this analytical work is essential for more informed decision-making in this area.

Australia also participates in the GATT Working Group on Environmental Measures and International Trade (EMIT) and the GATT Committee on Trade and Development. Australia strongly supports the decision by GATT contracting parties taken in December 1992 to review and, as necessary, supplement the work underway in the GATT relating to the follow-up to UNCED.

Australia supports work being carried out in UNCTAD's Trade and Development Board and the discussions in subsidiary bodies of UNCTAD on relevant activities which UNCTAD should undertake in the follow-up to UNCED. In this regard a number of ad hoc Working Groups and Standing Committees have incorporated in their first work programs elements with an environmental or sustainable development focus.

In relation to particular commodities, Australia has paid attention to trade and environment issues. During the re-negotiation of the International Tropical Timber Agreement, Australia has strongly supported the inclusion of a year 2000 sustainability target for production of internationally traded tropical timbers. Australia has also announced its own commitment to achieving sustainable management of its forests by the year 2000.

Providing adequate financial resources to developing countries and dealing with international debt

Australia's policies and programs designed to provide financial resources to developing countries are addressed in Part II, Section III of this document which concerns activities taken to implement Chapter 33 of Agenda 21. Measures taken by Australia to address international debt issues, in particular through debt rescheduling programs of the Paris Club, are also addressed in that section.

Encouraging macroeconomic policies conducive to environment and development

Activities concerning the national economy

Over the past decade, Australia has progressively implemented a range of macroeconomic and structural policies aimed at promoting non-inflationary growth, reducing public deficits, stimulating savings, narrowing major external imbalances and increasing the adjustment capacity of the Australian economy. Among other goals, these policies have aimed at building a more competitive export-oriented economy which is better able to contribute to an improved current account and external debt position.

As noted above, tariff reductions have been a key element of the Government's economic reform process, acting as a catalyst to improving competitiveness and furthering industry restructuring. The unilateral tariff reduction programs announced by Australia in recent years will see the nominal rate of assistance to both the manufacturing and commodities sectors drop to very low levels.

The use of economic instruments in environmental policy is receiving increasing attention from Federal and State agencies. The Australian Government is considering revising the System of National Accounts to include experimental estimates of the value of Australia's natural assets. A form of satellite accounts will be provided as an adjunct to the conventional national accounts. A paper describing these inclusions will be released shortly.

Australia allows tax deductions for certain forms of environment-related expenditure, including environmental plant and equipment, mine site rehabilitation and environment impact assessments. Major projects in Australia may be subject to an environmental impact assessment according to the terms of the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act at the Federal level or under equivalent State/Territory laws.

On an administrative level, many economic departments (ministries), including those responsible for trade, treasury matters and finance, have set up environmental units to help ensure that the process of integrating environmental and economic goals is successful.

The consideration of wider use of non-traditional approaches to environmental regulation will continue in Australia. These approaches, including economic instruments, should help to link further environmental and economic goals.

The NSESD will continue to provide an overall framework for ensuring proper integration of environmental, economic and social issues. As part of this process, a survey is being undertaken on current developments in the integrated measurement of economic, social and environmental performance and international developments in sustainability indicators.

Activities under the development cooperation program

The Australian development cooperation program assists developing countries to manage and diversify their resources in a sustainable way. Through its technical cooperation and training activities, the program encourages efforts in developing countries to strengthen national capabilities for economic policy formulation. This is a major priority in Australia's assistance to the Pacific Island countries.

The aid program also supports the development of the private sector through such programs as the Private Sector Linkages Program and support for appropriate economic policies. In providing support for economic development and development-oriented economic policies, the aid program also ensures, through the application of environment screening guidelines, that the activities it undertakes are ecologically sustainable.

Demonstrating a major commitment to facilitating the sustainable development of small island developing states, Australia is participating actively in preparations for the Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (Barbados, April 1994). The Conference aims to promote sustainable development in small island developing countries and to enable them to cope effectively with environmental changes. Australia has devoted significant resources to the Conference preparations, chairing the Preparatory Committee and contributing $A450,000 to the Conference and its preparatory process. The principal outcome of the Conference is expected to be a program of action setting out how the global partnership of islands and others in the international community will pursue sustainable development in small island developing states.

The Australian Government has launched a new initiative for the 1993-97 period to strengthen environmental cooperation with Asia. The 'Australia and Asia: Economies Growing Together' program will provide funding to initiate commercial relationships with Asian countries to assist environmental technology transfer.

2.1.3 Experience gained, particularly experience from which others may benefit

In relation to efforts to develop a coherent national approach to the integration of economic and environmental goals, Australia has found that a high level of interaction between interested government ministries and agencies is essential if cross-sectoral issues are to be adequately addressed. For Federal systems like Australia, this need for interaction is made more complex by the need to involve all levels of government given that many of the direct management responsibilities for environmental matters lie with the States, Territories and local governments.

There is also a need to consult with the private sector and community groups in the formulation of government policies. Through the process of preparing the NSESD, all sectors in Australia became more aware of both the difficulties and the great advantages of wide and comprehensive consultation between government and the general community. As governments grapple with implementation of Agenda 21, they will need to consider the modalities for adequate and appropriate consultation, given the limitations on government resources.

As noted in Section 1.2, the Australian Government has established a forum to ensure that community views on international environmental issues, including the views of business, are fully aired and explored with Government Ministers. The forum is considering how it can take further its consideration of trade and environment issues.

2.1.4 Specific problems and constraints encountered by governments at all levels, including Local Agenda 21 activities

Ecologically sustainable development requires extensive consultation, as outlined above. There is a need for adequate discussion to make environmental and economic policy-makers aware of different perspectives. The inherently more complex nature of integrated decision-making makes policy-making more difficult. Over time, this integration may come to happen more automatically but, in the initial stages, it will require considerable effort.

2.1.7 Assessment of specific expectations from international organisations, financial institutions and funding mechanisms

Australia looks forward to the ongoing analytical work in the OECD on the integration of trade and environment policies. Australia also considers that the GATT and WTO working groups/committees dealing with trade and environment are well placed to consider linkages between trade and environment policies and agreements from the perspective of both developed and developing economies. Australia welcomes further consideration of trade and environment issues in UNCTAD that will clarify developing country concerns and interests.

Australia also looks forward to greater involvement of UNEP in the elaboration of environmental principles and concepts. UNEP's involvement in trade and environment issues, when focused on complementing the work of other organisations dealing with these issues, should allow this work to proceed more quickly and comprehensively.

The analytical work of these organisations, concentrating on their areas of expertise, should assist countries in the integration of trade and environment policies and promotion of ESD. We would encourage international organisations working in this field to avoid duplication and seek to coordinate their work.