Review of the National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity

Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council
Environment Australia, 2001
ISBN 0 6425 4734 3

Chapter 6: Australia's international role

The conservation of biological diversity is a global issue and best tackled through multilateral cooperation. Australia is a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which has global coverage and has as its primary aims the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.

Australia is a party to international instruments, which incorporate biodiversity values. These include the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971), the Japan/Australia and China/Australia migratory bird agreements (JAMBA and CAMBA respectively), the Convention on Migratory Species, the Convention to Combat Desertification, the Commission for Sustainable Development and the United Nations Environment Programme. Australia also participates in non-treaty bodies such as the Valdivia group of southern hemisphere countries.

Considerable progress has been made in implementing these agreements and in the area of bilateral and multilateral cooperation. The Commonwealth has also provided resources for the continuation of the Global Environment Facility.

Key results

6.1 International agreements

Support and encourage the development of and Australia's participation in international agreements for the conservation of biological diversity.

Assessment: Achieved

To date Australia has contributed significantly to the implementation of a number of international conventions, treaties and agreements which help preserve biodiversity. Australia also has a good track record in participation, and progress is being made in the areas of migratory species, albatross, and wetlands conservation, trade in endangered species, biosafety5 and climate change. However there needs to be more coordination of the Commonwealth's efforts under the various treaties, particularly with regard to impacts on implementation of the Strategy and the operation of the CBD.

  • The following activities have been undertaken to meet Australia's obligations under international agreements for the conservation of biological diversity. The Commonwealth develops the positions taken by Australia to international meetings in consultation with the States and Territories. In many cases, the States and Territories have a representative on the delegation attending international meetings and provide experts for international committees.
  • Australia participated in the negotiations of the Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety, which was adopted by the consensus of the Extraordinary Conference of Parties in January 2000. The Protocol provides a framework to assess the possible risks to the environment that might arise from the transboundary movement of living genetically modified organisms. Australia is currently analysing the text of the Protocol and has yet to consider the issue of signature.
  • Environment Australia's Biodiversity Convention and Strategy Program is specifically directed at achieving the goals of the Strategy and the CBD.
  • Through the Convention on Migratory Species, the CAMBA and JAMBA treaties and the Apia Convention, Australia cooperates with other countries in activities to preserve migratory bird species. Australia also participates in the multilateral Ramsar convention (see objective 2.5 for additional details) which supports migratory species.
  • Australia is a signatory to the International Tropical Timber Agreement and undertakes activities under that agreement towards having trade in tropical timber based on sustainable forest management in tropical regions (this also meets objective 6.2).
  • Australia is one of the 12 country members of the Working Group on Criteria and Indicators for the Conservation and Sustainable Management of Temperate and Boreal Forests (known as the Montreal Process). The Montreal Process continues to make steady progress on implementation of the agreed indicators and will produce the first Montreal Process Forest Report in 2003.
  • Australia participates in the Valdivia Group of Southern Hemisphere countries on biodiversity issues of common interest. The group includes New Zealand, Chile, Brazil, South Africa, Argentina and Uruguay, and has cooperated to progress work under the CBD on the control of invasive weeds and feral animals. The group is currently working on a regional agreement on albatross under the Convention on Migratory Species.
  • The Commonwealth, through Environment Australia, implements the CITES convention. This convention controls trade in endangered species and therefore helps in the preservation of biodiversity.
  • The Commonwealth, States and Territories have made progress on the Convention to Combat Desertification with the adoption in May 1999 of the National Principles and Guidelines for Rangelands Management.
  • Under the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the National Greenhouse Strategy the Commonwealth is undertaking a $400 million greenhouse gas abatement program. It is committed to the goal of limiting emissions to 8 per cent above 1990 levels by 2008-2012. These funds are part of a $1 billion package which includes renewable energy generation, alternative fuels use and household energy reduction initiatives which are the largest commitment of funding to address the challenge of climate change in Australia's history.
  • Australia is an active member of the International Whaling Commission, established under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling to provide for the proper management of whale stocks around the world. The Commonwealth Government is committed to achieving a permanent international ban on commercial whaling and ensuring the global protection of all whales, dolphins and porpoises. Australia is a driving force behind strong whale conservation initiatives in the International Whaling Commission. Australia and New Zealand have jointly proposed the development of a South Pacific whale sanctuary as a step towards the creation of a global whale sanctuary. Australia and New Zealand have consulted with other South Pacific nations and proposed the establishment of the sanctuary at the commission's annual meeting in July 2000. The proposal gained a simple majority but not the necessary three-quarters majority to become effective. The support shown for the proposal in the region and among a number of other member countries has encouraged Australia and New Zealand to continue to press strongly for a positive outcome on this issue.
  • See also Common policy guidelines discussed in 2.8.
  • States and Territories provide significant advice and assistance in developing Australia's positions at a range of biodiversity related international fora. This is particularly the case with issues on which the States and Territories have specialised knowledge. Examples of such participation include:
    • the Northern Territory co-hosted the 1999 meeting of the CITES Plants Committee in Darwin; and
    • the Northern Territory provided the Oceania representative on the CITES Plants Committee and a State representative to the Australian delegation to the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technical Advice and the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

6.2 Overseas activities

Seek to ensure that the activities of Australians outside Australia are consistent with the conservation of biological diversity.

Assessment: Partially achieved

The Commonwealth has taken action through international treaties to ensure that its international trade and environmental policies are mutually supportive in the areas of trade in endangered species, tropical timbers and genetically modified organisms.

There is a need for activities of Australians outside Australia to come under greater scrutiny to ensure that biodiversity is not adversely affected.

AusAID takes into account the biodiversity impacts of Australian funded overseas aid programs (see also 6.3, International Cooperation). Australia also contributes to the Global Environment Facility (the Convention on Biological Diversity's interim financial mechanism) and has entered into a range of bilateral environment agreements with other countries.

  • The Commonwealth has entered into the following treaties:
    • Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES);
    • International Tropical Timber Agreement; and
    • The new EPBC Act has limited extraterritorial provisions, which apply to the Commonwealth. For example, the Commonwealth must not take an action, which is likely to have a significant adverse impact on the environment anywhere in the world.

6.3 International cooperation

Ensure continued and effective international cooperation in the conservation of biological diversity, directly between governments or through relevant international governmental and non-government organisations.

Assessment: Achieved

Working through AusAID and the Global Environment Facility has been effective in promoting international cooperation in the preservation of biodiversity. Other means of cooperation may be effective and efficient, for instance, there will continue to be opportunities for technology transfer and scientific cooperation.

  • Australia has undertaken the following activities to ensure effective international cooperation in the conservation of biological diversity:
    • Australia participates in specific international agreements and conventions which help preserve biodiversity, such as the CBD (refer to 6.1 International Agreements). In addition, Australia is an active participant in a range of international multilateral fora where it seeks to contribute to the conservation of biodiversity through, for example, building more cooperative relationships internationally and information sharing. To do this, Australia works with government and non-government organisations in the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and participates in United Nations fora such as the Commission on Sustainable Development, the United Nations Environment Programme, the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the proposed Forum on Forests. Formal and informal negotiation groups, such as JUSCANZ6 and the Valdivia7 Group, provide an opportunity to strengthen cooperative working relationships.
    • AusAID, the Australian agency for international development, takes into account biodiversity values when considering aid projects and focuses its resources on projects, which are ecologically sustainable. AusAID supports global and regional biodiversity efforts by ensuring biodiversity is considered in its overseas aid program. Currently the agency is funding $26 million of biodiversity related projects and activities. These involve strengthening human and institutional resources, direct efforts to conserve biodiversity and supporting multicultural and regional efforts. AusAID has also provided funding support for the implementation of international conservation agreements.
    • Australia hosted a meeting of Indian Ocean and south-east Asian nations in Perth in October 1999 to promote regional cooperation for marine turtle management and conservation. The meeting agreed that conservation of marine turtles would benefit from regional cooperation and that Australia should draft the text and action plan of a non-binding agreement.
    • Environment Australia and AusAID are actively involved in promoting the conservation of forest biodiversity in the east Asia and Pacific region. The agency is seeking to establish a partnership with the World Bank and World Wide Fund for Nature Global Forest Alliance. Environment Australia is funding projects to investigate the application of EcoPlan, an Australian resource use decision-making tool, in significant forested countries in the region, and is funding a project to provide Vanuatu with the capacity to map and plan their forest biodiversity. With the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry-Australia, Environment Australia funded the development of a code of practice and implementation strategy for forest harvesting in the Asia-Pacific region. The code of practice will help protect forest biodiversity.
  • Western Australia has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Agriculture, South Africa, to assist with capacity building for landcare and legislative reform under AusAID.
  • The Commonwealth has provided considerable funding to the Global Environment Facility, which provides funds for developing countries to use for environmental projects.
  • The Northern Territory participated in an ongoing ranger exchange program with Kwazulu Natal National Parks; a joint project for interpretation and management of the Bali Botanic Gardens; and a joint Northern Territory and Indonesian project in ethnobiology.