Biodiversity Theme Report
Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Prepared by: Dr Jann Williams, RMIT University, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06749 3
Roles and Responsibilities (continued)
Australia's international obligations [BD Indicator 26]
As a wealthy, scientifically literate country with unusually high biodiversity, Australia arguably has both the responsibility of protecting its own biological heritage, and the capacity to assist other countries to protect theirs. Biodiversity management has many international dimensions.
Australia traditionally has been an active participant in international fora and agreements in the environment area. In some cases, there has been legislative expression of commitments under agreements, but in most cases fulfilment is pursued under policy initiatives. Recent decades have seen an increase in international instruments concerning the environment, to which Australia is a party. Table 72 identifies the principal ones, either those most directly relevant to biodiversity or which are major, overarching environmental instruments. As with domestic policy and law, however, there is a larger range of international agreements and processes of relevance to biodiversity, whether directly or indirectly. In this Report, discussion is limited to Australia's core and recent activities under the principal agreements, and brief reference to other, selected agreements and processes. As a comparison, SoE (1996) contained an Appendix identifying the full range of international agreements.
|Entry into force||Title, date, place of agreement|
|1948||International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, 1946, Washington|
|1961||Antarctic Treaty, 1959, Washington|
|1975||Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat, 1971, Ramsar|
|1975||Convention for the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, 1972, Paris|
|1975||Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), 1973, Washington|
|1982||Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources, 1980, Canberra|
|1983||Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, 1979, Bonn|
|1985||International Tropical Timber Agreement, 1983, Geneva|
|1993||Convention on biodiversity, 1992, Rio de Janeiro|
|1993||United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in those Countries experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, particularly in Africa, 1994, Paris|
|1994||United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982, Montego Bay|
|1994||United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 1992, New York|
The primary international agreement is the CBD (United Nations CBD 1992b, vol. 31, 818-841). Article 6 of the Convention requires parties to:
- Develop national strategies, plans or programs for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity or adapt for this purpose existing strategies, plans or programs which shall reflect, inter alia, the measures set out in this Convention relevant to the contracting party concerned
- integrate, as far as possible and as appropriate, the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity into relevant sectoral or cross-sectoral plans, programs and policies.
The development of the NSCABD and subsidiary policies, discussed elsewhere in this report, and the existence of the EPBC Act fulfil the obligation at (1) in the general sense. As with most international instruments, the obligations agreed to through treaty ratification are not stated in clearly defined terms or in a testable manner, and must be interpreted in each national context.
The degree to which detail and implementation of the obligation is sufficient will always be a subject of debate over the detail of domestic policy, and is covered elsewhere in this report. The obligation at (2), in most analyses, would be fulfilled only partially, a situation that would apply in any country. The nature of biodiversity issues makes cross-sectoral policy integration both a necessary and difficult long-term task. Integration is required across domestic policies and the range of international agreements (ANZECC 2001).
From an international perspective, Australia is seen to be active in the CBD through its support of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice and by organising international conferences to help improve the scientific basis of the Convention. It is also well regarded for its support of sustainable natural resource management in partner countries. For example, Australia helps Pacific countries to participate in the CBD and AusAid has supported efforts of developing countries to alleviate their environmental problems. Australia also promotes the development of the information clearing-house mechanism of the CBD.
Australia participated in the development of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety under Article 19(3) of the CBD. As of January 2001, the Protocol has been ratified by 81 nations and signed by two. The Protocol deals with movements of 'living modified organisms' and Australia is exploring the inclusion of capacity building for corporations involved with biosafety issues.
Other obligations under the CBD include identification and monitoring of biodiversity, in situ and ex situ conservation efforts, management for sustainable use, public education and awareness, inclusion of biodiversity in impact assessment, access to genetic resources, transfer of technology, and information exchange and scientific cooperation. On international comparison, Australia has made significant progress against these requirements although, again, whether this progress is considered sufficient is contestable (see relevant issues and biodiversity indicators in this Report).
The 1999 National Principles and Guidelines for Rangelands Management fulfils Australia's obligations under the Convention to Combat Desertification. However, compared to the NSCABD, this domestic policy is not detailed and does not substantially guide decision-making through either defined processes or goals.
The EPBC Act covers Australia's obligations under the Convention for the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage. The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is expressed in Australia through the Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1982 (under review, see Harvesting).
Australia's international obligations with respect to the Antarctic environment are discharged primarily through the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980 and the Antarctic Living Marine Resources Conservation Act 1981. Australia is an original signatory to the 1959 Antarctic Treaty and has long been influential in the Antarctic Treaty System, which provides a regime for managing activities on the Antarctic continent and in the vast surrounding Southern Ocean. The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty was the direct result of an Australian initiative. The Protocol, which entered into force in 1998, provides comprehensive and legally binding rules to protect Antarctica's environmental values. Among other things, the Protocol requires prior assessment of the potential effects of all Antarctic activities, prohibits mining anywhere in Antarctica, regulates waste disposal and establishes a wide-ranging system of protected areas. Australia continues to provide leadership in protecting the Antarctic environment, including through the Protocol's Committee on Environmental Protection. In addition, Australia is a leading advocate within the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources for scientifically based management and sustainable fishing in the Southern Ocean, including promotion of strong action to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing for the highly valued Patagonian Toothfish.
Ramsar wetlands are listed under the EPBC Act as matters of 'national environmental significance'. The Ramsar Convention is an example of where international agreements may, over time, become dated or inadequate as a guide to standards of management. Although principles of 'wise use' have been developed in association with the Convention, the Convention itself may not properly reflect emerging ecological understanding and approaches to management (Farrier & Tucker 2000). This stems from the focus on wetlands rather than the total catchment, and on waterbirds rather than on the full suite of taxa dependent on wetlands. In part, such limitations are dealt with through domestic policy (e.g. catchment management and Commonwealth Wetlands Policy). But there is also need for constant evolution of approaches under international agreements and for coordination across agreements to reflect the more integrated definition and management demands of biodiversity.
Two international instruments and processes of apparently indirect relevance to biodiversity can be expected to assume great significance. The UNFCCC is likely to be a significant international instrument for biodiversity conservation in coming years, in two ways. First, the effects of climate change on Australia's biodiversity are expected to be significant, as discussed in the section on Human-induced climate change earlier in this report. Second, carbon sequestration and accounting, which are core to Australia's greenhouse policy response in the UNFCCC and the evolving Kyoto Protocol, have major biodiversity significance. Land clearing, as both a cause of greenhouse gas emissions and a policy response area, is a key threatening process for biodiversity.
The WTO and related processes governing international trade are becoming more important to environment and biodiversity management. Relevant areas under WTO negotiations and emerging rules include biosafety concerns, the definition of environmental subsidies (which may conflict with free trade principles), certification of environmentally sound production methods and environmental regulation affecting trade between countries. These areas have been most explored in recent years in fisheries, especially concerning bycatch issues (Bache et al. 2000) but it may be some years before there are any positive environmental benefits from WTO discussions.
Australia is also party to more specific bilateral and other non-global agreements. The conservation of migratory birds is subject to the China-Australian and Japan-Australian migratory birds agreements (CAMBA and JAMBA). In the immediate region, the Convention on the Conservation of Nature in the South Pacific was made in Apia in 1976 and entered into force in 1990. The Convention for the Protection of the Natural Resources and Environment of the South Pacific Region, which entered into force in 1990 and the Plant Protection Agreement for the Asia and Pacific Region (1956, amended 1979) also influence regional cooperation on biodiversity issues.
Australia has also been active in the 'Valdivia Group' of southern hemisphere countries who have common interests in biodiversity. This Group has addressed weed and pest species issues, and the protection of albatross under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species.
In addition to specific agreements, Australia participates in various international processes and organisations. Recent activities in this area include:
- Australia is a member of the working group on criteria and indicators for the conservation and sustainable management of tropical and boreal forests. This is known as the Montreal Process and in 2003 Australia will contribute to a major international report on progress made in the implementation of these criteria and indicators.
- Australia is a signatory to the International Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTO) and supports activities under this, which has the primary objective of assuring that trade in tropical timbers is based on sustainable management practices.
- As a member of the International Whaling Commission and in line with Australia's policy of a permanent cessation of all commercial whaling, Australia co-sponsored with New Zealand an unsuccessful proposal for a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary at the Commission's meeting in Adelaide in 2000.
- Through Environment Australia, the Commonwealth supported regional NGO involvement in dialogues surrounding the Intergovernmental Forests Forum processes concerning underlying causes of deforestation and forest degradation in 1998 to 1999.
- AusAid is currently funding $26 million of biodiversity-related projects in other countries, and Environment Australia and other Commonwealth agencies are supporting a range of projects under the CITES and Ramsar conventions and through the United Nations Global Environment Facility.
Overseas development aid has fallen globally in recent years and this has affected biodiversity-related aid as it has affected other areas of Australia's aid program. Agenda 21 defined a target of 0.7% of gross national product (GNP) as a target for developed countries to spend on aid, a target achieved by only four Scandinavian countries in the late 1990s. Australia's overseas aid spending had fallen below 0.3% of GNP by 1997.
The issue of the effect on biodiversity of Australian activities in other countries remains only partially resolved (ANZECC 2001). The EPBC Act places obligations on the Commonwealth in this regard. Some industry sectors have voluntary codes of practice which apply to environmental responsibilities of other countries, but generally these activities are viewed by Australian firms and governments as most appropriately the subject of the environmental regulations and practices of host countries. Industry codes and activities that influence the activities of Australian companies are discussed in Plans to minimise impact of development: Corporations.
Although international agreements are an arena of Commonwealth power and responsibility, a cooperative approach has developed in recent years with the states and territories being involved in negotiation and implementation. In some cases, particular states or territories are more directly involved. For example, the Northern Territory provided the state representative for Australia to the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice under the CBD and the Oceania representative on the CITES Plants Committee (Darwin hosted the 1999 meeting of the Committee). The Northern Territory also has bilateral cooperative arrangements with the South African province of Kwa-Zulu Natal through a ranger exchange program, and with Indonesia in ethnobiology.
As with domestic policy and law, whether or not Australia has fulfilled its stated or possible responsibilities under international agreements is a judgment that will vary according to the values and priorities of the observer. Outstanding issues that can be expected to be the subject of public debate and, thus, are deserving of further monitoring, evaluation and future reporting include:
- Integration of biodiversity issues into other sectoral, domestic policy (e.g. regional development, trade, transport), as per Article 6(b) of the CBD.
- Coordination of activities and information relevant to different international instruments, as noted in the review of the NSCABD (ANZECC 2001).
- More explicit recognition is required of the relevance of the UNFCCC to biodiversity conservation. The UNFCCC and the evolving definition of the role that land use change will have in measuring, reporting on and controlling greenhouse gas emissions directly attends the most problematic threatening process operating in Australia: land clearing. There is a high likelihood that the UNFCCC Kyoto Protocol until 2010 will be a significant international arena of negotiation for biodiversity, rather than the CBD or other, apparently more directly relevant instruments.
- The treatment of environment and biodiversity issues in WTO negotiations and rule making. In particular, evolving clarification of issues of environmental subsidies and exemptions from free trade principles.
- Information on the activities in other countries of Australian public agencies and private firms that may affect biodiversity, and further development of guidelines and standards of practice.
- The degree to which the obligations or expectations under international agreements may be viewed as a sufficient standard against which Australia's activities should be judged, or a basic benchmark that should be exceeded.
In many cases, enhanced public discussion and a clearer definition of expectations would inform the current debate over Australia's international role and performance in conserving biodiversity.