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Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment

COMMISSION ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT


SIXTH SESSION HIGH LEVEL SEGMENT

New York
30 April 1998

Mr Chairman, last year we agreed on a second five year program of work for the CSD which was tighter and more focused yet which is in many ways more challenging. In 2002 we will need to look back and evaluate our achievements, as we did at UNGASS. At this session we must set ambitious, but clear and achievable goals so that real progress can be demonstrated.

I'd like today to tell you briefly, from Australia's point of view, what we believe these goals should be and what our measures of success should be in 2002.

Kyoto Protocol

First though, let me reiterate Australia's commitment to addressing climate change, as further demonstrated by our signature yesterday of the Kyoto Protocol. It is encouraging that many states have signed and that we are looking to further progress at Buenos Aires.

Australia is already taking concrete action following Kyoto. We are implementing a comprehensive range of new initiatives, with funding of some $180 million announced prior to Kyoto, to work with the community, business and the States and Territories towards meeting Australia's part of this global challenge.

We encourage all countries to engage in implementing what we agreed at Kyoto. I am confident that the Clean Development Mechanism will provide opportunity to do so for both developed and developing countries. We must work to secure the effective global cooperation necessary to address this global issue - in all our interests, and most immediately those of vulnerable island states.

Returning to our themes for this year's CSD,

Freshwater

Agenda 21 makes it clear that water is essential to all elements of life. In Australia we are all too aware of this reality. Australia is the driest inhabited continent in the world, with the least river water, the smallest area of permanent wetlands, the most variable rainfall, and the lowest run off.

The work done in preparing for CSD6 demonstrates that there has been much progress in the way water is managed. However, a much greater task remains. And it must be tackled in an integrated manner.

For the world to achieve real sustainability of water resource use, we need management which fosters integrated catchment planning, involves the local community, acknowledges the need to maintain the ecological integrity of freshwater systems and employs economic instruments for greatest efficiency.

We must encourage an operating environment which attracts private sector investment and more efficient use of resources available for development assistance. We need stable and effective macroeconomic management, market-oriented policies, effective and accountable institutions and ongoing investment in human resources development. All of these are vitally important to the sustainability of integrated water resource management efforts.

For our part, Australia has under way an extensive water reform program on a national and regional scale, with all these elements. It has been agreed by all Australian Governments, the national Government and six State and two Territory Governments, which under our Constitution, own water resources. This gives us many relevant trans-jurisdictional experiences.

The program is complemented by the $1.25 billion Natural Heritage Trust established by Australian government - the largest environment program in Australia's history. This funds the sustainable management, rehabilitation and conservation of Australia's natural capital.

The impact of these reforms has already achieved water savings of almost 20 per cent across urban Australia over recent years. Full cost recovery pricing combined with improved institutional arrangements, including devolution of responsibility and water trading in rural areas is encouraging water use effectiveness and the transfer of water to higher value uses. Specific allocations are being set aside for environmental flows. And in the Murray-Darling Basin, covering more than one million square kilometres across four States and one Territory, Governments have agreed to cap the amount of water to be taken out of the river system.

Community participation has been a central element in the Australian activities as it is in other countries. Devolution of responsibility must be accompanied by capacity building with the provision of access to training, expertise and technology appropriate to local needs. Australia's aid program helps in achieving these objectives elsewhere.

In addition to government aid, private capital flows (both international and domestic) are an increasingly important source of investment for the water sector. Public/private partnerships are one way of attracting these capital flows.

I am pleased to announce today that the Australian Government will join the Global Water Partnership. We believe the partnership to be an important mechanism by which we can support integrated and consistent water resources management programs at a global level. We look forward to sharing our knowledge and expertise on water resources management and to helping develop effective solutions.

Institutional arrangements

It is important to ensure that the opportunity presented by the current international attention on freshwater is not wasted. Australia supports arrangements for reporting back to the CSD on progress in improving institutional processes; regular monitoring and evaluation of our work is an important part of achieving our goals. We believe this can be achieved without compromising the integrity of the CSD's work program.

Capacity Building

Australia believes that capacity building in developing countries is integral to sustainable development and is encouraged by the trends that have emerged in this area in the last several years. We fully support the idea that national commitment and ownership must drive the process of building capacity and agree that the growing effort in many countries to involve a wide range of participants is one of the most encouraging trends to date.

We note the close relationship between successful capacity building and essential elements of good governance including participation, bureaucratic transparency and accountability. We continue to stress the important role the private sector can play in capacity building.

Transfer of Technology

The transfer of environmentally sound technologies (ESTs) is an important means of achieving sustainable consumption and production. While ODA remains an important source of funding for the transfer of environmentally sound technologies, commercial participation is growing rapidly in importance. Governments also have roles to play in setting environmental goals, standards, guidelines and protocols and in creating the enabling conditions for commercially-driven technological development.

Industry and Sustainable Development

Turning to industry, Australia sees our goal for the 2002 review as achieving the full engagement of industry in the sustainable development debate. This means, among other things, more comprehensive reporting by industry (accountability), use of life cycle systems and acceptance of a range of regulatory and voluntary approaches.

Industry has a major role to play in the achievement of sustainable development. Through improving its own practices industry will contribute substantially to sustainable development where it is located. As well, industry plays a major role in the transfer of appropriate technologies from developed to developing countries, assisting those countries to move towards sustainable development.

Our key task here is it encourage industry to engage effectively in the sustainable development agenda. I am pleased that the Industry segment last week was successful and hope that the format can be used in the years ahead to continue to strengthen CSD's policy rigour as well as its future reach.

To influence and encourage industry in this, we cannot rely only on regulation or indeed altruism. Viability and competitive advantage remain business imperatives. That is why concepts such as sustainable consumption and production and eco-efficiency really matter.

Eco-efficiency makes sense for industry because it results in better environmental outcomes from industrial practices, and also improves economic efficiency. Tools such as cleaner production, life cycle assessment, environmental reporting, environment management systems and environmental accounting are very useful in helping industry move down the eco-efficiency path. Governments should do what they can to promote their use.

Australia has a flexible approach to the implementation of environment policy that encompasses regulation, incentives and voluntary action. This approach involves a careful consideration of each challenge or market failure and the matching of the appropriate solution to the specific problem.

The format of our discussions has taken a step forward this year with the inclusion of the industry segment. We look forward to similar innovations in the future that will help us as delegates ensure our deliberations produce useful outcomes beyond the conference room. The world needs those outcomes. Next year from CSD we need practical outcomes on oceans. And we need practical outcomes from the Special Session of the General Assembly which will confirm our determination to implement the Barbados Plan of Action and reduce the vulnerability of small island states.

Our discussions here are only a small part of making it all happen. The real work is on the ground. To see real progress by the time of our next review individual nations and the international community must commit themselves to ensuring sustainable development is a part of our daily practice, rather than just a conceptual framework. Australia reaffirms its commitment to this task.

Commonwealth of Australia