ABC AM interview with Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek


SABRA LANE, HOST: A high stakes United Nations summit is under way in Canada trying to agree on a blueprint to stop and reverse nature loss. A key part of this particular meeting is a draft agreement to protect 30 per cent of the planet's land and water by 2030. 

The Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek is taking part in the talks, and she joined me earlier from Montreal. 

Tanya Plibersek, thanks for joining AM. I understand that you've been arguing the need to strengthen the language around this draft document. So far it says that countries should reduce extinction rates by tenfold by 2050 but there's no target date for 2030. Are you disappointed by that? 

TANYA PLIBERSEK, MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Look, we're still negotiating the final document and I think it's important to say that Australia has high ambition when it comes to protecting nature. I mean we agreed recently that the world is going to move to net zero. I think we need to agree that we're going to move to nature positive as well so that we have a net zero nature positive world. 

We think that the document that has been circulated has some really good elements, but we believe that it needs to be more ambitious in some respects. So, we've got a domestic target of protecting 30 per cent of our land and 30 per cent of our oceans by 2030. We think that should be a global target. We think we should have a target of zero new extinctions, and of course Australia wants to see this done in strong partnership with First Nations peoples. 

We'd like to see those domestic ambitions reflected globally and that's what I've been arguing throughout this conference. I think it's really important to say that Australia has been playing a really positive role in negotiating this final agreement. We've really gone from environmental laggard to leader on the world stage. One of the examples of that is the higher ambition statement, we worked up with Norway, a statement to give stronger protection to our oceans. That's been signed on to over last 24 hours by 37 other countries. So, it's just an example I guess of the kind of positive role Australia can play globally. 

LANE: Delegates also had hope that governments would make it mandatory for big businesses, multinationals, to disclose their impact on the environment but observers say that's been watered down. What's Australia's position on that? 

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Look, the language around that is a little more ambiguous than you'd like but there's still I think a strong argument there that businesses should be disclosing their impact on nature. I think it's important to have that in the document. 

We certainly are working through international organisations to have consistency around the way that businesses describe their nature related risk. We think there's a lot of business interest in doing that. I mean their customers demand it, their investors demand it, even their staff demand it, and that's one of the reasons we're setting up our nature repair market in Australia. 

We know that there's a lot of interest from business in being transparent about their impact on nature and looking for a way of reducing the negative impacts that they might be having on nature.

LANE: Are there particular countries that are pushing back against strengthening these agreements? 

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Look, I don't think it's productive at this stage of negotiations to start naming and shaming. 

LANE: Name names? 

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: No, no. I think it's fair to say that Australia is one of the group of countries that is pushing for high ambition. Things like 30 by 30, things like zero extinctions. Making sure that we've got really strong indicators of our progress as well. Making sure that we can transparently track how we're going. All of these are things that Australia's been arguing for. We're in very good company in making these arguments. There are obviously some countries that are saying that this is too hard but my hope is that they'll come on board for an ambitious agreement for nature. 

As I say, we managed to agree to net zero in Sharm el Sheikh. What we'd like to see out of this conference is an agreement that we've got to halt the biodiversity loss we're seeing and reverse it and be living in nature positive world by 2050. 

LANE: In Australia it's estimated that we need to spend over a billion dollars a year to protect and restore nature. Are you able to quantify how much the Commonwealth spends right now per year to do that? 

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, it's not just Commonwealth spending that's important. Of course, I mean we increased our spending at the last budget. We've got $1.8 billion across the budget year to invest in nature, but state and territory governments play a role. Philanthropists play a role. Business plays some role. And again, we're hoping that they'll play a bigger role as we establish our nature repair market. 

But look, you know, the absolute truth is of course we can do better in Australia and that's our plan. That's our intention as a government. That's why we've already increased environmental funding. 

LANE: And in doing better should people have expectations that there'll be a significant increase in spending in the May Budget next year to reflect, you know, what you say is important work? 

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, we already saw an increase in the October budget, and we are determined not only to increase government funding but to make it easier for others to invest in repairing nature as well. 

The last report we saw on the interest from business in investing in a nature repair market is businesses are prepared to look at around $137 billion worth of invest in coming decades in nature repair. This is becoming as important for businesses as reducing their carbon pollution. 

We've got to make sure that all of our investment is effective so that government investment, both State and Commonwealth investment and the private sector, philanthropists, we can work together to make a real difference to Australia's natural environment. 

LANE: Tanya Plibersek, thanks for talking to AM. 

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: It's a pleasure Sabra.