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Publications archive - International Activities and Commitments


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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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 - 1996

Implementation of Agenda 21
Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1996
ISBN 0 6422 4868 0

International institutional arrangements

Chapter 38 of Agenda 21

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) recognised that the United Nations has a critical role to play in implementing the programs of Agenda 21. To ensure this, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) established the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in 1993. The commission's major functions are to monitor and review progress in the implementation of Agenda 21 and provide recommendations to the General Assembly on this issue.

Australia regards the UNCSD as a reflection of the commitment of the international community to achieve sustainable development at national, regional, and international levels. Australia supported the establishment of the UNCSD at UNGA and has been a member of the commission since its inception. Australia's commitment to the principles of Agenda 21 are also reflected through the appointment of an Ambassador for the Environment.

The UNCSD's focus on international institutional arrangements is intended to integrate environment and development issues within the existing structure of the United Nations using a minimum of new resources, to implement Agenda 21 effectively, to respond to new and emerging issues as Agenda 21 is implemented, and to promote cooperation and collaboration within the United Nations, among governments, NGOs and business and scientific communities.

Australia has the following objectives concerning United Nations institutional arrangements dealing with sustainable development: to ensure proposals related to the United Nations system are developed within existing resources; to encourage an open and transparent system of national review by the commission, as well as regular preparation of national sustainable development reports; to expand the role of NGOs in the UNCED follow-up process; to clarify the role of the United Nations system, particularly the UNCSD, in implementing the outcomes of UNCED and to ensure that clear links are established between the commission and other United Nation bodies.

Australia also funds key international institutions involved in promoting multilateral solutions to environmental problems. Among these organisations are United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), World Health Organisation\ (WHO), United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), International Maritime Organisation (IMO), United Nations Education and Scientific Cooperation Organisation (UNESCO), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and the twenty-two international agricultural research centres, including the sixteen centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.

Australia has consistently supported an expanded role for NGO participation throughout the UNCED process. This commitment has been reinforced by having NGO representatives on Australian delegations to all three sessions of the CSD. Australia's NGO Consultative Forum on International Environment Issues, established in 1993, also acts as a channel between the Government and the Australian community for the exchange of views on UNCED outcomes and follow-up.

Australia has international environmental reporting responsibilities to a number of international forums. These include: the Organisation for Economic and Cooperative Development (OECD) Group on the State of the Environment; the OECD Group on Environmental Performance; UNEP; the United Nations Economic and Social Council for Asia and the Pacific; and the WMO. In addition, Chapter 38 of Agenda 21 calls for voluntary national reports on the implementation of Agenda 21. Australia has provided national reports to the CSD since 1994 and has encouraged the evolution of a culture of voluntary reporting addressing the work program of the commission.

Chapter 38 also states that national efforts should be undertaken by all countries to deal with environment and development concerns in a coherent manner and calls on countries to consider establishing national coordination structures responsible for the follow-up of Agenda 21.

Australia's National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development (NSESD) was endorsed in December 1992. The strategy evolved over several years through extensive consultation with all levels of government business, industry, academic, voluntary conservation organisations, and community based groups. The implementation of the strategy is managed by the Intergovernmental Committee for ESD (ICESD) which consults with NGOs and reports to the Council of Australian Governments.

The NSESD, in addition to identifying specific actions to be undertaken to implement ecologically sustainable development, also contains a number of requirements for review and monitoring of implementation. Specifically, the strategy states that the ESD Steering Committee (which has now evolved into ICESD) will monitor the performance and development of the strategy by coordinating a report to Heads of Government in 1993 and a further report every two years thereafter.

The 1993 report provided a summary of implementation to date on thirty-two sectoral and cross sectoral issues. The 1995 report is expected to be published in the near future.

Establishing institutional mechanisms to promote the integration of ESD principles in policy formation is a major focus of the NSESD. Among its objectives are:

ESD principles have been incorporated into legislation, including the Commonwealth's Endangered Species Protection Act 1992, and Natural Resources Management Act (Financial Assistance) 1992. In New South Wales, the Protection of the Environment Administration Act 1991, requires the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority to have regard to ESD principles, the New South Wales Local Government Act 1993 includes specific environmental provisions, the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 1994 requires that development subject to environmental impact statement requirements have regard to ESD principles, and the State Environment Planning Policy for Olympic Games Projects requires that projects demonstrate their consistency with ESD principles. State owned infrastructure and service providing authorities are also governed by legislation where ESD principles are included. In Victoria ESD is also promoted at the local level through the Conservation Strategy Program and ESD has been incorporated into the Australian Capital Territory's Integrated Environment Protection legislation.

New South Wales has established the Resource and Conservation Assessment Council which is undertaking extensive work to identify the conservation values of both public and private forested lands to assist in the development of a comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve system as well as coordinating information on wilderness, heritage and national estate values.

All jurisdictions remain committed to implementing the InterGovernmental Agreement on the Environment (IGAE), one of the main actions listed under the NSESD, and are cooperating on a range of actions under the agreement, including the establishment of accreditation of land use planning systems and development approval processes.

Australia's NSESD calls for regular national state of the environment reporting to enhance the quality, accessibility and relevance of data relating to ecologically sustainable development. A national environmental reporting framework and Environment Advisory Council were established in 1994 based on the OECD's 'pressure - state - response' approach to reporting. The council will produce a variety of products: a comprehensive state of the environment report every four years (first in 1995); and at various other times technical reports, state of the environment newsletters, an environmental atlas, specific research papers, educational information kits and computer compatible information.

Reporting will concentrate on the Australian continent, its marine environments and the external territories. As part of Australia's response to international environmental issues, assessments will, as far as practical, be placed in a global context.

A report on the state of Australia's marine environment (SOMER) was released in 1994. The report was the first comprehensive, scientific description of Australia's marine environment and provided information on the development of a national marine conservation plan, a national marine education program and for future marine reporting in national state of the environment reports. Other monitoring and reporting programs relevant to the state of the environment are being initiated through nationally agreed strategies, including the NSESD, the National Greenhouse Response Strategy, the draft National Strategy for the Conservation of Biological Diversity, the National Forest Policy Statement and the draft National Water Quality Management Strategy.

Most State and Territory governments have now developed state of the environment reporting programs in response to Agenda 21 and through specific legislation. Local Governments are also beginning to assume environment reporting responsibilities.