Statement on international environmental leadership

At last year’s federal election, Labor promised a fresh approach to leadership and the environment.

We said we would do things differently.  

Renewing Australia’s relationships abroad, particularly in the Pacific.  

Listening to our neighbours, working in the region for peace and prosperity. 

At the same time, we promised to put the environment front and centre – back where it belongs.  

Crucially, we recognised these ambitions could only succeed together.  

That without a serious environmental agenda, it would be impossible to establish trust in the Pacific. 

And that without global cooperation, all our good intentions on the environment would fall short.   

That was the vision we took to the last election.  

And that is what we have spent the past eighteen months delivering.  

One of the first things I did after being sworn in as Minister for the Environment was travel to Portugal, for the UN Ocean conference.  

I wanted to send a message: that Australia was once again accepting our responsibility as a global leader on the environment.   

One person who welcomed this message was the French President, Emmanuel Macron.  

He told our Australian contingent: 

‘You are back … We need you in the Indo-Pacific strategy. And climate and oceans is part of that strategy’.

Protecting nature is a human rights issue. It’s an economic opportunity.  

But it’s also a foreign policy issue, it’s a security issue.   

Just this year, we have witnessed:  

The hottest ever month on record in July, followed by the hottest August and the hottest September.  

Antarctic sea ice at the lowest coverage we have seen.   

Twelve million acres of Amazon rainforest burned to the ground.  

Three snapshots from our triple planetary crisis – the crisis of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss.  

A crisis demanding leadership abroad and action here at home.

And that is why, immediately after taking office, our government submitted stronger climate targets to the United Nations.   
Legislating net zero by 2050.  

Passing our safeguard reforms through the parliament. 

Doubling the rate of renewable projects being approved. 

Getting cheaper, cleaner renewables into our energy grid. 

That is how we become a renewable energy superpower at home, which is becoming increasingly essential to our relationships overseas.  

Climate change and clean energy are now officially the ‘third pillar’ of our US alliance.  

And we have signed an official agreement with their Environment Protection Authority, working to protect the environment and share critical information and data. 

On climate, on pollution, on biodiversity loss – we are addressing all three facets of our triple crisis. 

Last December, I was proud to lead Australia’s delegation to the Montreal for the UN Biodiversity Conference, where we campaigned for a new global agreement to protect nature in every country.  

There in Montreal, a week before Christmas, 196 countries agreed to the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. 

A landmark agreement – to stop new extinctions, to halt the spread of invasive species, to restore degraded environments, and to protect thirty percent of planet’s land and sea by 2030.  

As the Australian Conservation Foundation said afterwards, ‘for the first time in a long time, Australia played a leading role in improving the agreement’.  

Australians led from the front in Montreal, we were a force for ambition.  

And we are implementing that ambition here at home.  

Delivering on our thirty-by-thirty commitment – protecting thirty percent of our land and sea by the end of this decade.  

Since coming to office, we have added an extra forty million hectares of protected land and sea. 

Growing our national estate by expanding our marine park system, creating new Indigenous Protected Areas, and crucially, by supporting conservation on private land.   

We are also delivering on our pledge to stop new extinctions in Australia, with our stronger national environmental laws.

With a new EPA, to enforce those stronger laws on the ground. 

With our Nature Repair Market, bringing new funding to the work of protection and restoration.  

And with more than $500 million to save native species and deal with weeds and feral predators.  

These commitments on thirty by thirty and zero new extinctions are supported by every state and territory. 

And last week, we agreed to set four additional targets – on restoring nature, reducing the impact of invasive species like feral cats, building the circular economy, and minimising the impacts of climate change on nature.  

Work that begins by measuring what matters in our budget process – tracking biodiversity loss, land protection, air quality, waste and climate change. 

By adopting these targets domestically and updating our National Biodiversity Strategy, we breathe life into our international agreements and encourage other countries to follow our lead.  

A second historic win for global conservation was the UN High Seas Biodiversity Treaty, which was finalised in March, after years of negotiation. 

High seas cover more than sixty percent of the world’s surface.  

They don’t belong to any single country, but it’s where fish and whales travel, it’s where pollution congregates.  

And now, for the first time, we have a framework to establish Marine Protected Areas on these high seas. 

When the treaty opened in New York, Australia was one of the first countries to sign on. 

And we are looking to give the agreement extra weight, by supporting new high seas protected areas in our region.  

We are also helping our Pacific neighbours sign and ratify the treaty with three million dollars of assistance.  

At home, we have tripled the size of the Macquarie Island Marine Park, adding an area of protection bigger than the size of Germany.  

One of the largest conservation decisions made anywhere on earth, at any point this year. 

A decision celebrated by ocean lovers around the world.  

In Queensland, we are protecting the Great Barrier Reef.  

Improving water quality, dealing with starfish outbreaks, phasing out dangerous gillnet fishing within the World Heritage area, blocking a coal mine that would have polluted the marine park.  

Work that UNESCO acknowledged was making ‘significant progress for the reef’ – work that stopped the site being listed as ‘in danger’. 

And at the other end of our region, we are driving an international push to protect Antarctica and the Southern Ocean from exploitation.  

Campaigning for a new East Antarctic Marine Park, which would protect over one million square kilometres of penguin and whale habitat, an area the size of New South Wales.  

And we are continuing Australia’s historic leadership on whale protection, as Vice Chair of the International Whaling Commission.  

Upholding the moratorium on commercial whaling, ensuring the survival of these amazing creatures.  

Our oceans are by their nature global.   

Which is why we must also deal with the third element of our triple planetary crisis, by fighting for an ambitious global treaty on plastic pollution.  

Our neighbours in the Pacific see the terrible impact plastics are having on this region.  

In the ocean to Australia’s north, we are pulling out ghost nets that have drifted into our water, nets that are six miles long, killing turtles, dolphins, sharks and fish.  

I have made this clear on a number of occasions: I want to see a plastic pollution free Pacific in our lifetime.  

In November last year, Australia joined the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution. A Coalition to end plastic pollution by 2040.  

And in May this year, I travelled to Paris to make this case, together with other friends from the region.   
We are seeking a treaty with binding international laws, which push countries to clean up the pollution that is choking our environment. 

But also for producers to take responsibility for the plastics they are generating – and to minimise demand for plastics in the first place.   

The same philosophy we are applying to the circular economy here in Australia, building new recycling facilities, regulating packaging standards. 

Which is already taking an extra million tonnes of waste out of landfill per year.  

In our region, Australia is funding the Pacific Ocean Litter Project.   

With $16 million to reduce single use plastics.  

Money that is helping the Solomon Islands move off plastics bags, straws and polystyrene packaging, in time for the Pacific Games this year.   

Australia has also been a leading force in the Rotterdam Convention on hazardous chemicals, seeking to ban the trade of chrysotile asbestos.  

A terrible material, like other forms of asbestos, that gets in the lungs, that causes mesothelioma, that is killing workers who handle it.  

And here I want to acknowledge the perseverance of our union movement in driving this campaign.  

Our government is backing global action, we are adding our ambition to international agreements.  

And we are also giving direct support to countries in our region.  

Helping other countries protect their mangroves and seagrass beds, with our Blue Carbon Accelerator Fund.  

Reviving thousands of hectares of mangrove forest in Indonesia, in the Philippines, in Madagascar.  
Aiming to increase mangrove coverage by 20 percent this decade, helping fish and birds breed, protecting our coasts from storm surges.  

And here at home, we are restoring these vital carbon sinks in Queensland, in Tasmania and South Australia – on the Sunshine Coast, in Hobart, in Port Gawler.  

Our international development program is also assisting our neighbours deal with their environmental challenges across the Indo-Pacific.  

With our help, Palau is currently building its first utility scale solar farm and battery storage facility – with all the social and economic benefits that flow from that.  

In the same spirit, we are helping Pacific countries build their weather monitoring and prediction services, through the Bureau of Meteorology.  

Working with local agencies to better forecast their climate, oceans and tides, helping them deal with emergencies and climate change.  

And we are collaborating with our neighbours on other areas of science and research, bringing together reef and ocean managers from across the Pacific, led by the Australian Institute of Marine Science. 

Because if we share the same problems, we should actively share our solutions.  

Australians live in the most beautiful country in the world. 

We have a duty to protect our World Heritage, those places with outstanding universal value.  

Our government is investing in that national estate, by doubling our funding to national parks like Uluru Kata Tjuta and Kakadu. 

And we are actively extending it, by progressing nominations for Murujuga Cultural Landscape, Cape York, the West Kimberley and the Flinders Rangers.  

And we are using this experience to grow our Indigenous World Heritage profile, with $5.5 million for First Nations to lead future bids.  

As the Prime Minister said last week in the Cook Islands.  

‘We have listened to the needs of our Pacific neighbours and are committed to addressing our shared challenges’.  

We do this because it’s what good neighbours offer each other. 

But we also do this because it’s in our national interest.  

A stable Pacific, a sustainable planet, a safer world.  

That is Labor’s vision.  

A vision shared by friends in our region, by partners around the world.  

And next year, we are inviting these partners to join us at the Global Nature Positive Summit in Sydney.  

Building on our government’s support for the Taskforce on Nature Related Financial Disclosure, which is getting businesses to incorporate nature into their decision making.  

We want to bring the best environmental minds to Australia, from every continent on earth.  

Showcasing examples of successful conservation. Sourcing new investment for restoration and protection.  

Keeping the momentum going after Montreal.  

We’re all on a journey here. 

A journey we are supporting in the Pacific and around the world, while doing the necessary work at home. 

Dealing with our triple planetary crisis – on climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss.  

Working every day to protect more of what’s precious, restore more of what’s damaged, and to manage nature better for our kids and grandkids.