Australia is an active participant in numerous international partnerships, meetings and events concerning the environment, water, heritage and sustainable development. These that cover the full range of environmental issues include the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme, the Commission on Sustainable Development, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Global Environment Facility, the World Heritage Committee, the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme and numerous multilateral conventions.
Australia makes regular reports to these and other international forums. These reports include assessments of how Australia meets its own environmental objectives and fulfils international commitments. Two particularly relevant and recent national-scale assessments are the OECD’s environmental performance reviews and the national reports to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, outlined below. Australia also participates in the development and implementation of many other international agreements relating to environmental and biodiversity conservation and sustainable use.
The OECD has conducted two independent reviews (1998 and 2008) of Australia’s national environment and environmental management as a part of its series of environmental performance reviews of member countries. The first review set baseline information for assessing future environmental progress, and the second review examined performance across three areas: environmental management, sustainable development and international commitments.
The 2008 review14 provided an encouraging assessment of Australia’s performance. It made 45 recommendations for future progress, many of which feature in this report as recent initiatives or achievements. They include advances in water reform, expansion of the national reserve system, integrated management across jurisdictions at regional scales, continued improvements to national environmental datasets and information sharing, efforts to improve energy efficiency and decouple environmental pressures from economic growth, broadened participation in land-use planning, and the introduction of a carbon tax.
Australia has been engaged with the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) since the inception of ad hoc working groups in the lead-up to the ratification of the convention at Rio in 1992. The Australian Government is now preparing for the Rio +20 Convention at which progress over the past two decades will be discussed and revised targets will be negotiated.
The most recent national progress report to the CBD was submitted in 2009.15 It identified the major current and long-term threats to Australia’s biodiversity as climate change, pest species and disease, loss and fragmentation of habitat, marine and coastal pollution, disruption to natural water flow and fire regimes, population growth, and unsustainable development. The report also stated a number of priorities for managing environmental threats, all of which feature in SoE 2011: building ecological resilience, conserving connectivity, mainstreaming biodiversity issues in decision-making and improving the information base to support decisions.
Australia is a party to a number of other multilateral environmental agreements, international activities, organisations and partnerships for which SoE reporting is an obligation or has direct relevance: