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

Presentation by Senator Hill, Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Australia, to the 20th Meeting of the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme

5 February 1999, Nairobi

Mr President, Executive Director, distinguished delegates,

. Over the 27 years of its operation, UNEP has had some remarkable achievements.

. UNEP has been the crucible for several of the world’s best known international agreements, including:

. It has also made significant contributions toward developing the concept of sustainable development, and provided impetus to the development of Agenda 21.

. Lesser known achievements are UNEP’s role in creating bodies such as the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme, which has done so much to bring together the peoples of the South Pacific Island countries to protect their environment. SPREP is a model of success which needs to be replicated again and again by UNEP and governments through UNEP’s Regional Seas Programme.

. But two years ago when the Governing Council marked UNEP's 25th anniversary, the challenges it was facing threatened to eclipse its achievements.

. Governments were openly questioning whether UNEP had a future. There are still many questions to be answered about UNEP's future. But we are now increasingly confident that there are answers.

. Under its new Executive Director, Dr Klaus Toepfer, UNEP is poised to regain it’s pre-eminence in global environmental issues for a second generation of people and their governments.

. The next generation of issues is going to be more challenging than many we have faced to date. Environment Ministers are managing ever greater demands on their country’s lands, their waters and their atmosphere. Many are struggling, and are looking to UNEP to provide guidance and leadership.

. I know how valuable it is for us to draw on the experience of other countries in dealing with the environment issues which confront Australia. UNEP must be a forum and a catalyst for the sharing of such practical experience. For this reason, it is imperative that UNEP work closely with governments and civil society to maximise the benefits of its work.

. I look forward both to contributing to UNEP’s work on the environment, and to joining other members of Governing Council to give government endorsement and authority to the outputs it produces.

. In a few minutes I shall make some remarks on behalf of the Hon Simon Upton, the New Zealand Minister for the Environment and Chairman of the Commission on Sustainable Development.

. For Australia it will be important that we demonstrate this year that CSD can do much more than recycle old issues and dabble with new ones without some useful practical outcomes. UNEP can help in this regard by ensuring that its input to CSD is focussed and relevant to the challenges of sustainable development.

. In relation to the important issue of Oceans, the UNEP contribution has met those benchmarks. This is a topic of vital interest to Australia.

. Australia is the first country in the world to develop a comprehensive, national plan to protect and manage its oceans.

. We have learned a lot from the process. I launched our Oceans Policy just a few weeks ago. The Australian Government is committed to its success.

. The Oceans Policy’s main outcome will be a new and integrated planning and management regime that will allow the government and the Australian community to ensure conservation of Australia’s rich marine biodiversity while at the same time providing security for our sustainable marine based industries and other sustainable users of our oceans.

. Australia’s Oceans Policy will be the guiding force in the future care and use of Australia’s marine and coastal resources.

. At the core of the policy is a commitment to ecosystem-based management, which will be implemented through a new regional marine planning process.

. Regional marine plans, based on large marine ecosystems, will integrate commercial interests and conservation requirements. The process will ensure that the needs of our marine environment are comprehensively addressed while providing additional certainty and security for ocean industries and users.

. I would welcome the opportunity to share our experiences with developing the Oceans Policy with other members of UNEP.

. This is an area where UNEP should call on the experience and expertise of governments, both developing and industrialised, and analyse the successful programmes and why they work. This is the sort of work that Australia would like Governing Council to consider and promote.

. As a result of our work on our own ocean waters, we have recognised that there is a gap in management and protection of biodiversity and other ecological values on the high seas. Australia will be taking a proposal to address this issue to the Commission on Sustainable Development.

. This proposal will call on governments to support, on a global basis, action to protect a representative sample of marine ecosystems. I hope you will be able to join me in developing, supporting and ultimately implementing this proposal.

. In relation to freshwater, an issue of considerable importance to many governments here, despite significant guidance from the Governing Council and the High Level Committee, we have seen little in the way of concrete outcomes from UNEP to date.

. We have been encouraging UNEP to focus on the environmental aspects of freshwater as a means of contributing to integrated freshwater management and assessment. Australia takes the issue of freshwater management seriously and encourages UNEP to take advantage of the experiences and partnerships that already exist in this area.

. Given the renewed guidance given at this meeting, and the guidance provided previously, UNEP must now focus its activities on realising its potential to promote considerable improvements in freshwater quality throughout the world.

. We think that UNEP should have a tightly defined environmental focus and concentrate on areas where it can value add. Freshwater is one example of this.

. Dr Toepfer is earning the trust of governments through greater transparency in UNEP’s operations. This is perhaps most clearly demonstrated through our readiness to adopt Dr Toepfer’s budget proposals for UNEP.

. I endorse the call for regular detailed reports on implementation of UNEP’s programs. Regular reporting will mean that we can see what UNEP is doing, provide inputs where we are in a position to do so, and sell UNEP’s work to the global community.

Commonwealth of Australia