After months of negotiation and planning in the lead up to Rio+20, around 30,000 people congregated in Rio de Janeiro for the nine-day forum in June. A week of intense negotiations culminated in a three-day leaders’ conference where around 100 heads of government and state agreed on the development of the Future We Want outcomes document.
From 13 to 22 June more than 500 side events were held at the Riocentro Convention Centre, covering the gamut of sustainable development themes - from natural capital to biodiversity to poverty eradication. Rio+20 was the biggest United Nations conference ever held, with broad participation of leaders from government, business and civil society, as well as United Nations officials, academics, journalists and the general public.
The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon views the 50-page Future We Want outcomes document as a hard-earned compromise between developing and developed nations, which represents ‘a global movement of change in which governments, the private sector and civil society all contribute to achieve global prosperity while protecting the environment’.
Two highlights of Rio+20 were an agreement to develop a set of global sustainable development goals (SDGs) and to establish a high-level political forum on sustainable development. The outcomes document discusses how the green economy can be used as a tool to achieve sustainable development; strengthens the United Nations Environment Programme, promotes corporate sustainability reporting measures and takes steps to go beyond gross domestic product to assess the well-being of a country.
The Future We Want also focuses on improving gender equity and recognises the important role Indigenous knowledge plays in sustainable development. The document calls for countries to strive to achieve a 'land degradation neutral' world (which will be implemented through the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification), to integrate planning and building sustainable cities and urban settlements (through assistance to local authorities), to strengthen risk assessments and to develop tools to reduce the risk of disasters.
The SDGs will address priority areas for sustainable development and the process will link to the post-2015 development agenda, as well as the review of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). A working group of member states has been constituted to produce a proposal for SDGs by September 2013.
Prime Minster, Julia Gillard, agreed to co-chair the United Nations Secretary-General’s Millennium Development Goal Advocates. The group, which includes government and business leaders, was formed to help accelerate the MDGs process and to look forward to the development of SDGs.
Rio+20 also produced a number of strong outcomes on oceans, including:
- To restore the health, productivity and resilience of oceans and marine ecosystems, and to maintain their biodiversity, enabling their conservation and sustainable use for present and future generations, and to effectively apply an ecosystem approach and the precautionary approach in oceans management.
- To take action on marine protected areas; to eliminate fisheries subsidies; to tackle marine pollution and alien invasive species and to address the challenges of sea level rise and coastal erosion, ocean acidification and the potential environmental impacts of ocean fertilisation.
- To take action to achieve significant reductions in marine debris by 2025,, based on collected scientific data.
- To urgently take the measures necessary to maintain or restore all stocks at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield and to urgently develop and implement science based management plans to achieve this.
- To eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing by developing and implementing national and regional action plans. This will be implemented under the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s international plan to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
Australia supported a range of initiatives and text during negotiations on the outcomes document, with Australia’s priority areas being well represented in the final document. These include strong outcomes on the sustainable management of oceans, indigenous peoples, gender equality, food security, sustainable development goals, mining and disaster risk reduction. Australia is already undertaking a substantial amount of work in these areas both domestically and internationally.
The following list is an overview of the agreed key outcomes and deliverables resulting from Rio+20 priority areas for Australia.
- continue to protect marine life within its 3.1 million square kilometres of ocean, the largest representative network of marine protected areas in the world
- continue to provide support to other countries in the region to establish and effectively manage and protect their marine areas
- continue to meet its obligations with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) relating to the protection of marine environment
- work to maintain fish stocks at levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield and promote responsible fishing practices to work towards the elimination of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing
- advocate for the elimination of harmful fisheries subsides that contribute to over-fishing and overcapacity
- be proud to host and support the Indian Ocean office of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), which promotes international cooperation and coordinates efforts to learn more about the nature and resources of the oceans and coastal areas. This knowledge is used to improve management, sustainable development and protection of the marine environment across the globe, as well as in Australia
- welcome the outcome at Rio+20 for member states to commit to making a decision on the development of an international instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law Of the Sea 1982, for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, before the end of the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly
- remain actively involved in the work of the United Nations General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction
- invest in research to understand how climate change is and will impact on our oceans through the Australian Climate Change Science Program.
Rio+20 recognised the potential for a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) to drive action on sustainable development. The outcomes document contains guiding principles and countries agreed to establish an intergovernmental working group under the United Nations General Assembly to develop the SDGs.
Australia will be working with other countries to develop SDGs, including possible targets and indicators, and how these will link to the post-2015 development agenda. Australia’s experience in developing indicators to measure domestic sustainability will be useful in the post-Rio+20 process.
The Australian Government will continue to be actively engaged in efforts to develop and implement broader-based measures of progress, both domestically and internationally. This includes the program of work to determine broader measures of progress to complement gross domestic product, building on existing initiatives led by the United Nations Statistical Commission. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) was the first national statistical organisation to move on this concept, releasing the inaugural edition of the Measures of Australia’s Progress (MAP) framework in 2002. The framework displays progress measures for key areas of interest side by side, to allow the public to assess whether life in Australia is getting better.
The ABS has recently undertaken national consultation to review MAP, ensuring it remains relevant to today's society–that we are measuring what Australian society cares about. The outcomes of this consultation will be used to develop a refreshed framework for measuring progress by the end of 2013. This new framework is likely to contain a fourth domain of governance, in addition to the current MAP domains of society, economy and environment.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the development of an International Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities Land and Sea Managers Network. The international network will provide an avenue for indigenous peoples and local communities across the world to build relationships and share their experiences in using contemporary and traditional knowledge to better manage the environment and support sustainable livelihoods. A conference will be held in Darwin in May 2013 to develop the network. See more in Land and Sea Managers' Network announced at Rio+20.
The Australian Government has a number of programs and initiatives in place to address the significant gap between Australia’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous population in terms of life expectancy, education, health and employment. These are the:
- Council of Australian Government’s Closing the Gap Strategy, which coordinates efforts by all governments across a range of key policy areas. Closing the Gap also acknowledges that Indigenous culture, which includes the importance of connection to country, is critical for emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing
- Working on Country Indigenous Rangers program which brings together western science and Indigenous ecological knowledge for the effective environmental management of land and sea country
- Indigenous Protected Areas program
- Indigenous Carbon Farming Fund
- Caring for our Country
- National Reserve System to protect and conserve examples of our natural landscapes and native plants and animals.
These programs not only enable Indigenous people to maintain their cultural obligation to care for country, but they also provide employment, training, education and business opportunities. In this way they make a significant ongoing contribution to Closing the Gap in Indigenous disadvantage. These initiatives are already benefiting Indigenous Australians, their families and communities.
The Australian Government is ensuring that mining is a catalyst for broad based economic and social development, by working with the mining sector to lift social and environmental responsibility, accountability and transparency as an aid to sustainable economic development through a range of initiatives including:
- promotion of the Leading Practice Sustainable Development Program for the Mining Industry, which provides the mining sector with practical guidance on how to improve the sustainability in mining along many aspects of the supply chain
- development of a national Multiple Land Use Framework to help reduce the scope for conflict between resources, agricultural, environment and local community interests, which maximises the net benefits of multiple land use for present and future generations
- working to ensure communities have greater confidence in coal seam gas (CSG) projects through the establishment of an Independent Expert Scientific Committee to advise government about relevant CSG and large coal mining approvals where they have significant impacts on water resources
- development of a harmonised CSG regulatory framework to ensure sustainable development of this sector through the application of leading practice regulation
- establishment of a Memorandum of Understanding on Indigenous employment and enterprise development, which is a key conduit for collaboration between Australian Government agencies and the Minerals Council of Australia
- application of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which is aimed at resource-endowed nations and funded to promote a global standard for verification and publication of material company payments and revenues from mining, oil and gas;
- reform of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 to deliver better environmental outcomes, and help increase certainty and reduce regulatory burden for industry.
Australia has committed to working towards women’s equal rights, including in economic and political decision making, and to removing barriers to the equal participation of women in sustainable development. Australia has agreed to contribute to promoting equal access by women and girls to education, health care services, and economic opportunities and to ensure universal access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable modern methods of family planning.
Australia is currently undergoing legislative reform and working on a number of existing and new programs and initiatives to drive the removal of barriers to women’s full and equal participation in the workforce. The key endeavours are:
- the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999 is being significantly amended to address systemic inequalities in the workplace
- the new Workplace Gender Equality Act will cover both women and men, highlighting the importance of balancing work and caring responsibilities as well as equal remuneration
- the Australian Government is committed to achieving a minimum of 40 per cent representation of women and 40 per cent men on Australian Government boards by 2015
The Australian Government has also funded a second round of the Australian Institute of Company Directors Board Diversity Scholarship program, which offers 70 full-fee scholarships for high performing women to undertake leadership courses.
Australia’s Global Ambassador for Women and Girls will continue to advocate for gender equality, including the essential role of women in sustainable development and economic progress as leaders, participants and agents of change, and ensure this is central to Australia’s diplomatic and development endeavours.
The Australian Government is developing a National Food Plan which will address improving food security including access to adequate, safe and nutritious food.
On a global basis Australia is using its scientific expertise to help African countries strengthen their agricultural practices as well as supporting the G20 AgResults initiative and the Agricultural Market Information System, which provides timely global food market alerts to price surges and establishes a forum to discuss effective policy responses to market developments (the Rapid Response Forum).
Rio+20 called for the commitment of adequate, timely and predictable resources to disaster risk reduction (DRR), for DRR to be integrated into national strategies and plans, and for enhanced international coordination and cooperation.
Australia has the following initiatives in place:
- the National Strategy for Disaster Resilience, which is a whole-of-nation, resilience based approach to natural disaster policy and programs agreed to in 2011
- the completion of disaster risk assessments of priority hazards by all jurisdictions, and the use of these assessments in informing key decisions and planning
- the development and publication of more, and improved, flood risk mapping and modelling data for community and business use
- improved land use planning controls to manage key hazards in the natural environment
- investigation of what impact climate change will have on the frequency, intensity, extent and duration of extreme weather events.
For additional outcomes and deliverables please refer to the Rio+20 Outcomes for Australia document download.