Australia faces an unprecedented challenge from climate change. We risk losing our natural heritage, our rivers, landscapes and biodiversity. We have a brief opportunity to act now to safeguard and shape our future prosperity. – AUSTRALIA 2020 SUMMIT – INITIAL SUMMIT REPORT
One of the 100 privileged participants within the POPULATION, SUSTAINABILITY, CLIMATE CHANGE, WATER & FUTURE OF OUR CITIES topic area, proposed,
“A zero species loss by 2020 goal, and one of the ways that this could be achieved is through a comprehensive series of protected areas.”
Not one of the 100 participants argued in support of protecting the integrity of the evolutionary process.
Another participant stated,
“My understanding, from my work in natural resource management, biodiversity and so forth, we could stop any further degradation by 2020; that’s a feasible goal; most of it is government, not money…”
Again, no argument from participant expertise, along the lines of the 24-million feral pigs in Australia, as but one example.
The summit proposed that environmental considerations will be fully integrated into economic decision making in Australia, at the household, business and government levels, but there was no contention that legislation enacted in 1994 already required the integration of environmental and economic considerations in decision making and for balancing the interests of current and future generations.
I would have hoped that the more important recital would have recognized the historical lack of compliance as the preeminent issue and that future refinements would preclude non-compliance.
Indeed, the 1992 Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment expresses a significant achievement of environmental policy design and rather than reinventing the regulatory wheel, as-it-were, it could have formed the foundation for refinement towards the forum’s stated aims.
The delegation proposed the adoption of a National Sustainability, Population and Climate Change Agenda and the development of robust institutions to support it. As a part of this agenda, an audit function to report on governments’ performance against these climate change and sustainability objectives, would be included.
Again, the pre-existence of the National Environment Protection Council Act 1994, with its annual auditing and reporting functions, was conspicuous in its absence from the debate.
Interestingly, the Initial Summit Report indicated how strikingly and often concern arose that Australia has not been sufficiently clever in using the skills and ingenuity of its people.
This is despite Principle 22 of the 1992 RIO DECLARATION ON ENVIRONMENT AND DEVELOPMENT, which states:
Indigenous people and their communities and other local communities have a vital role in environmental management and development because of their knowledge and traditional practices. States should recognise and duly support their identity, culture and interests and enable their effective participation in the achievement of sustainable development.
The Initial Summit Report did stipulate, however, the involvement of indigenous people, insofar as:
• A new dialogue will have been established with our indigenous peoples on our response to climate change, water and sustainability challenges;
• Stakeholder engagement, including with regional Australians, capacity building and education are needed to support the significant behavioural change required to implement these policies. Indigenous people must also be involved in policy development and implementation; and
• That a National Indigenous Knowledge Centre be established and maintained with indigenous people. This centre would examine multidisciplinary research and program delivery pertaining to climate change, sustainability and water.
However, the essence of environmental interdependence (in my opinion), binding individuals and families together in common possession, through the building block of both communities and nationhood, was largely overlooked. So too was the excellent practice of so many individuals, families and communities through existing commitments. There was rather the stale and familiar stench of enriching the bureaucratic stake in an illusion of environmental concern.
I would have preferred that Australia was rather re-defined by its people and their relationship with their natural environment. Surely it would have been better if Australia had been required to be supportive of its unique communities, bound in triumphant territorial respect for the aspirations, life and memory of their constituents. I would have thought it much more encouraging, if it was exposed to discomfort of its historically abhorrent dislocation of communities from their natural environment and in the same unequivocal terms that bind Australians to Australia.
I also believe that Australia’s adaptive strategy must be accommodated by the national strength of unity. The federal Government needs the solidarity of its people to act upon this global conviction and to bring the divisiveness of yesterday’s enviro-corruption to an unequivocal end. All Australians must annihilate the perverse belief that we condone the removal of people and communities as a condition of caring for the natural environment. We must rather stand united and restore dignity to our disenfranchised communities and revitalise their children’s futures.