Publications archive - International Activities and Commitments
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World Summit on Sustainable Development
2-11 September 2002
The Commonwealth Government conducted a second round of domestic consultations in all capital cities from 15 April to 6 May 2002 as part of its preparations for the upcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa 26 August to 4 September 2002. Advertisements were placed in the Weekend Australian on 23 March 2002 and the Koori Mail on 3 April 2002 inviting the general public to the consultations. An invitation was also extended by email to Environment Australia’s WSSD contacts list.
Approximately 200 participants attended the meetings, ranging from private individuals, academics, students, youth representatives, industry groups, local and state government, environmental and aid NGO’s, the legal profession and religious organisations.
The fourteen public meetings covered a wide range of issues. At the completion of each meeting Environment Australia officials provided an oral summary of the topics discussed at the meeting to ensure that issues had not been overlooked or misinterpreted. This paper attempts to summarise the wide range of issues canvassed at the fourteen meetings and highlighted in the concluding summaries.
Amongst the range of issues likely to be considered at the WSSD, the Commonwealth Government had identified three priority issues for Australia - oceans management, good governance and sustainable land management. The public meetings considered each of these key priorities.
A number of participants expressed their support for oceans management as a priority for WSSD and called for a continuing commitment to broader marine management and planning at the domestic level. This support at the domestic level has reinforced Australia’s emphasis on oceans as a priority outcome for WSSD. The importance of integrating the three pillars into any oceans initiative was stressed in particular the social and economic aspects of issues such as Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.
Coordination at the international level was raised in particular the need to avoid overlap between existing multilateral environment agreements. Other issues that should be included were fisheries, aquaculture and the management of temperate waters.
The need for strong political commitment and leadership from the Commonwealth Government in its domestic policies on national governance was seen as vital if Australia was to promote good national governance as a WSSD outcome. The necessity of a long term approach to sustainable development, both within Australia and internationally, was also identified. A number of comments suggested there was a need to reaffirm a commitment to sustainable development and engender a sense of urgency at the national level. Participants suggested that a clearly articulated forward program of actions within Australia to improve governance was needed after WSSD.
Some participants also suggested that there was a need for an Environmental Ombudsman or Commissioner for Sustainable Development in Australia. Review and update of the 1992 National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development was also recommended.
The view was also expressed that policy mechanisms for integrating the pillars of sustainable development including triple bottom line accounting and private sector accountability were particularly important. The need for sustainability indicators and green accounting was also identified.
Participants supported the importance of sustainable land management as a priority for Australia. It was suggested that initiatives on sustainable land management needed to give greater consideration to the social aspects of this issue, especially sustainable communities. There was also a need to recognise the rights of Indigenous people to continue traditions on their own land. Some participants also pointed to the need to address environmentally damaging subsidies.
There was some debate on the successes of Landcare with some people regarding it as not successful enough to be used as a model elsewhere while others felt it had been very successful, particularly in educating and involving communities. Some participants felt that Australia was not in a good position to promote sustainable land management at the international level noting Australia’s high clearance rates of vegetation, species extinctions and salinity problems.
A significant number of participants considered that other areas should be included as priorities for Australia such as climate change, energy, population growth, consumption and production patterns, freshwater, overseas development assistance, and the Earth Charter.
There were strong calls in all public meetings for Australia to make climate change a priority issue, in particular ratifying the Kyoto Protocol by WSSD. Many also questioned Australia’s credibility in promoting oceans and land management given the links to climate change and Australia's non - ratification of the Kyoto protocol.
There were specific comments in relation to elements of the Chair’s text on climate change, in particular the need to ensure that the political outcomes reflected the scientific findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Others felt that what was needed was a balance between politics and science and a reaffirmation of political commitment to address climate change.
There was substantial debate on energy with many participants calling for a move to renewable sources of energy. There was a call for Australia to have a sustainable energy policy and a need to reflect international discussions and best practice at a domestic level. Reference was made to the United Kingdom National Energy Policy as a possible model for Australia. There were also calls for an international convention on renewable energy.
There was a strong emphasis on the need for Australia to develop a clear national policy on a sustainable population level and to promote sustainable population levels internationally. This should include issues such as an analysis of carrying capacities or ecological footprints, production and consumption patterns, waste management and a more sustainable approach to transport. Participants also noted the link between population and globalisation, trade and business.
A number of participants from the business sector expressed frustrations that Government was lagging behind in promoting new approaches to achieving sustainable development. Specific examples were given of areas where businesses are taking into account the sustainable development implications of all new research and development as well as in their day-to-day operations. Many participants from a range of backgrounds called for greater national leadership in sustainable development.
Participants raised a number of issues relating to consumption and production patterns. These included the need for the concept of a carrying capacity or ecological limits, the need to undertake some form of biophysical or green accounting including building on existing work within the United Nations and the need to take into account questions of what makes a good quality of life. The role of media often promoting unsustainable production and consumption patterns was also raised.
There were strong calls for Australia to adopt and promote the Earth Charter in the WSSD context, particularly supporting the UN’s adoption of this document.
Participants felt that the Earth Charter could act as a unifying document given that extensive work involving civil society had already been undertaken to develop it. They also felt that Earth Charter networks could be used as a source of partnerships for Type 2 outcomes.
Participants highlighted the importance of education especially for potential Type 2 or partnership outcomes. The importance of environmental education and education for sustainable development was emphasized for its role in changing attitudes and leading to behavioural change.
The protection and consideration of Indigenous issues, especially the protection of Indigenous knowledge and places, was stressed as essential, as was the importance of maintaining the right to the continued use of traditional lands. Some participants emphasised that the protection of Indigenous knowledge should go beyond that pertaining to traditional medicine with an additional recognition that science and technology often find short term fixes at the expense of long term Indigenous solutions.
The importance of Local Government in implementing sustainable development was emphasized. A number of examples were raised of local councils working together for instance to reduce greenhouse gases.
Local Agenda 21 and local government partnerships were proposed as an area where there were a number of potential Type 2 outcomes.
Participants felt that a clear public articulation of Australia’s position for the WSSD was needed well before the meeting takes place in Johannesburg. One suggestion was that this take the form of a Prime Ministerial statement similar to that made on Kyoto to raise awareness and focus attention within the community.
There was substantial debate on targets and timelines for action with strong calls for Australia to commit to clearly identified targets and timelines in WSSD outcomes.
There was a great deal of interest expressed in partnerships or Type 2 outcomes and a number of suggestions were made as to possible Type 2 initiatives. These included:
On Type 2 outcomes generally, participants remarked that Type 2 outcomes would need mechanisms for their organisation, approaches for identifying benefits and funding. In particular what was needed was a matching process for bringing partners together. In many cases there are already structures and commitment in place, what is now needed is the means and motivation to make partnerships work.
The view was also expressed that cultural differences need to be taken into account in developing partnerships and that formalized structures for partnerships make this more difficult. It was also felt that the end objective of partnerships should be to enable the partners to become self sufficient in driving and achieving their own sustainable outcomes.
The interest in and ideas for partnerships as a lasting practical outcome of the WSSD which came out of the public meetings directly influenced Australia’s position on partnerships and continues to provide valuable input into Australia’s development of Type 2 partnerships for the WSSD.
Substantial discussions surrounded the role of foreign aid in sustainable development. Australia and other OECD countries were criticised for their low levels of ODA and conditions behind aid (tied aid). There was recognition that aid was not the only way to reduce poverty, but there were consistent calls for Australia to achieve its 0.7% of GNP ODA target.
Participants were keen to see WSSD outcomes on transboundary water issues, highlighting the experience of Australian agencies and communities in addressing water problems. It was felt that this may be an area where Type 2 outcomes could be developed.
The management of freshwater, particularly a whole of catchment approach, was noted as being an important outcome with general consensus that in cross-border catchments political solutions that were sustainable in the long term were needed in addition to engineering solutions.
There was support for the promotion of environmental technology both in terms of its development and use in Australia and its transfer to the developing world.
Some participants suggested that an International Environment or Sustainable Development Court was needed to resolve international sustainable development disputes.
Participants recommended that the WSSD should support the use of sustainability indicators, in particular linking them to decision making. Some participants felt that Australia had particular expertise in environmental audit and assessment and that this was an area for private sector leadership. The growing private sector interest in triple bottom line accounting was noted, as was the challenge for encouraging small to medium enterprises to use such approaches.
Some participants felt that there was a need to address pollution particularly from motor vehicles. It was felt that at present there are conflicting incentives and mechanisms. Incentives need to be created to encourage the private sector to consider alternative approaches, for example in the area of recycling of motor vehicles. Others felt that business was already picking up a number of initiatives, such as in the areas of product stewardship and good corporate citizenship.
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