Publications archive - International Activities and Commitments
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Consultation results paper
Environment Australia, 25 October 2001
The Commonwealth Government held consultation forums on Australia's preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in six capital cities between 27 August - 3 September 2001. Public invitation was through an advertisement in The Weekend Australian on 11 August 2001 and via the Department of the Environment and Heritage's web site. We also invited many of our key stakeholders directly by letter.
Approximately 170 people, representing a broad range of stakeholders, participated in the consultations. These included State Government agencies, representatives from Local Government, environmental NGOs, academia, a range of industry groups and peak representative bodies, development and social NGOs, small business, the health industry, the tourism industry, water associations, youth and legal associations, religious organisations and animal welfare groups.
Department of Environment and Heritage representatives provided an oral summary at the completion of each forum to ensure that none of the issues raised had been missed or misinterpreted. The results from each forum were collated and compared to identify the key themes and issues, and summarised to determine a national picture. This is a national summary of key issues arising from the public meetings. It is not intended to provide an exhaustive record of meetings.
The roles and responsibilities of different players were discussed at all meetings. Great emphasis was placed on governments' role, especially in relation to leadership. Governments were seen to have a vital role here, especially by looking beyond their political interests to analyse honestly how the world has fared in the past ten years and to assess which strategies and policies have worked in Australia and which have not. A recurring theme was the need for government at the national level to provide an overarching vision and framework for sustainable development while recognising that implementation requires local actions for local conditions. Considerable debate also centred on leadership from industry and on the role of local communities.
It was recognised that Australia and the international community face a number of challenges in the pursuit of sustainable development. Among the more important of these is the need for effective communication and coordination among all sectors, to create a better understanding of the breadth of issues being dealt with in the sustainable development debate.
Improving environmental governance was seen as important for pursuing sustainable development nationally and internationally. It was felt that this could be achieved through better coordination among different spheres of government and increased involvement of non-governmental sectors in decision-making processes, and internationally through reforms within the United Nations system. Not surprisingly, the need for effective partnerships and greater coordination came through regularly in the debate, whether in relation to communication, access to information, or monitoring performance. Greater dialogue between governments and non-government sectors was also called for in relation to non-regulatory approaches to effecting change.
It was felt that achieving greater integration of the three pillars of sustainable development, especially the social aspect, was important, as well as achieving the right mix of policy instruments, including appropriate incentives. Addressing the social dimension of sustainable development was seen as a challenge for Australia and also an area requiring greater debate, especially the incorporation of social, spiritual and religious values. It was also felt that increasing fragmentation within local communities, and inequity within and among countries needed addressing. There was a strong call for attitudinal change within all sectors and the wider community, as well as within aid agencies and international financial institutions. Particular emphasis was placed on the need for integration of sustainable development principles into the private sector, including the adoption of environmental accounting, environmental quality accreditation and non-economic growth indicators. Education, both formal and informal, was recognised as the key to achieving long-term attitudinal change in Australia.
In the review of progress, it was widely felt that capabilities in monitoring and assessing processes and progress towards sustainable development need improvement. Equal access to environmental information for all players was an issue, as well as developing competence in the use of the knowledge that is already available. Equal access to technology transfer, including among countries, was raised, with many regarding it as necessary to first identify and remove existing barriers to enable such technology transfer to occur.
As well as challenges for Australia, the public consultations raised a number of topics which people believe have not received adequate attention in the debate on sustainable development in Australia. This included the sustainability of current production and consumption patterns, the role consumer choice and education play in bringing about change and a perceived need for empowerment among non-governmental organisations and within local communities. Suggestions to achieve this included building local capacity, establishing a National Sustainability Council, facilitating greater dialogue with governments and industry, and providing information relevant to engendering change, for example, data on consumption patterns.
Trade and environment, climate change, the precautionary principle, energy and energy technology, urban sustainability, gender issues (including women in agriculture), health, international environment governance (including transparency in environmental decision-making) and the reduction of environment-damaging subsidies were also raised as likely subjects for debate at the Summit and as topics requiring further debate in Australia.
Discussion also covered tools that could usefully be adapted by governments and other sectors in the pursuit of sustainable development. The usefulness of setting performance measures for government and private sector institutions was debated. Particular reference was made to triple bottom line reporting, the inclusion of sustainable development concepts in national accounts, an agreed sustainability index, greater use of life cycle analysis, ecological footprints, the 'natural step', environmental monitoring systems and the better targeting of Australian aid for projects with sustainable development outcomes. Several stakeholders argued for using regulation, economic drivers, realistic pricing of environmental resources and consumer pressure as factors for change. There were also calls to devolve more authority and decision-making powers to local communities, and to build local capacity.
Education featured prominently throughout the consultations, not only as an area requiring additional debate and greater emphasis, but also as a tool to change attitudes and behaviours. Suggestions included encouraging education at all levels of formal study as well as raising public awareness, and inclusion of sustainability concepts into the curriculums of schools and tertiary education courses. A responsibility to be educated about sustainability issues was also emphasised, for instance by using the experience of people from other parts of Australia and the world.
People felt that Australia, like all nations, faces many challenges in achieving sustainable development. It was acknowledged that Australia has many success stories to share with the world, even though there is room for improvement in all the successes cited. Examples which received most attention included Australia's integration of the principles of sustainable development into legislation (most notably the Commonwealth's Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999) and policies (for instance National Strategy on Ecologically Sustainable Development and National Greenhouse Strategy) of Australian governments at federal, state/territory and local levels. Reference was also made to non-regulatory measures (such as financial and tax incentives) and the removal of environmentally damaging subsidies. On the education front, Australia's Integrated National Curriculum was cited as another success.
It was argued that although there should be greater emphasis on developing partnerships among all players there were also many examples of people working together. The adoption of partnerships between governments and non-government sectors in implementing integrative solutions to address natural resource management, sustainable development and environmental repair (including monitoring and assessment systems such as the National Land and Water Audit), was widely viewed as a success. Other areas of successful cooperation cited included the Local Agenda 21 program, Cooperative Research Centres, the Natural Heritage Trust, Landcare, Saltwatch, and various eco-efficiency initiatives (for example the eco-redesign project).
The internalisation of sustainability concepts in many sectors, including business and agriculture, was seen as a positive step. Promoting an understanding that sustainability makes economic sense was highlighted.
We received approximately thirty written submissions in response to our discussion paper on the WSSD. A summary of the written submissions will be made available shortly at www.ea.gov.au/commitments/wssd/index.html. The public consultation, the written submissions, the outcomes of the Pacific sub-regional preparatory meeting (5-7 September 2001) and themes emerging from other sub-regional meetings (available at www.johannesburgsummit.org ) will inform Australia's position for the WSSD Regional Preparatory meeting in Cambodia .27 - 29 November 2001.