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I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land we are meeting on, the Gadigal and Guring-gai people of the Eora nation. I pay my respects to the Elders past, present and future and welcome other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people attending today’s event. I wish to acknowledge and respect their continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of our country.
I would like to welcome you all to Sydney and thank you for your time in attending this Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit. I would particularly like to welcome those from governments across the region – you are the policy makers that need to lead the charge in rainforest preservation.
I also would like to thank those from business, international and civil society organisations and NGOs here today. You are the implementers, the people on-the-ground putting the policy into action to achieve real results. Without all of your historic and future contributions, we will not achieve our common objective of protecting the region’s rainforests.
Protecting the Asia-Pacific rainforests is an issue that I feel strongly about. This is why I committed to holding a summit on Asia-Pacific rainforests when my government took office.
Indeed, the Coalition has a strong track record of working in the region on improving forest management and protection. That’s why we are seeking to kick-start the process of working collaboratively with our regional neighbours on this issue.
To that end, my hope is that this will be just the first in a series of Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summits.
Our ultimate aim is to collaborate on the development of a framework that recognises the unique drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in our region and responds to these drivers with approaches tailored to local circumstances and conditions.
But before I go further, I would like to mention that today, being the 11th of November, also marks the 96th anniversary of the Armistice which ended the First World War. As with most Australians, as well as others around the world, we will observe one minute’s silence at 11 am, in memory of those who died or suffered in all wars and armed conflicts.
1. The importance of Asia-Pacific rainforests
I don’t think I need to convince you that rainforests are valuable. They play a key role in watersheds: protecting water quality and reducing the impact of natural disasters, such as flooding and landslides. They support magnificent ecosystems that are teeming with biodiversity.
Forests are critical in protecting biodiversity: they provide habitats for about two thirds of all species on earth. Rainforests are particularly important. For example, according to The Nature Conservancy, rainforests cover less than two per cent of the earth’s surface, but house half of the world’s plant and animal species.
The Asia-Pacific rainforests are significant globally. Despite representing one-quarter of the world’s land area, the Asia-Pacific region is home to four of the world’s 12 “mega-biodiversity” countries. Of the world’s 25 international biodiversity ‘hotspots’, seven are in the Asia-Pacific, including the unique region of Southwest Australia.
Rainforests are part of the cultural fabric of our local communities, nations and the Asia-Pacific region as a whole. They are a part of what defines us. There are almost 250 million hectares of tropical rainforests across the Asia- Pacific and the region contains one of the world’s three great rainforest basins.
But what makes the Asia-Pacific rainforests significant is their uniqueness. The region is home to thousands of species of mammal, birds and flowering plants, including key endangered iconic species: the Orang-utan, White-Handed Gibbon and the black crested macaque.
Asia-Pacific rainforests also provide critical habitat for the endangered Philippine Eagle, Sulu Hornbill and or our own Kuranda Tree Frog, which is one of a number of Australian rainforest species listed as threatened in our domestic legislation.
And, very importantly in today’s world, rainforests help in regulating the earth’s climate and are a tremendous natural carbon dioxide sink. Rainforests cannot be neglected when we are talking about how to address the global challenge of climate change.
In addition, and perhaps most importantly for local communities, the region’s rainforests provide food and shelter that support the livelihoods of millions of indigenous people.
2. The challenge
Sadly, deforestation and forest degradation is becoming more and more of a challenge for policy makers across the region.
Since 2000, the region has experienced major loss in forest cover, including rainforests. And this rainforest loss is having an impact. There has been a loss of biodiversity and many species are under threat, including many of our iconic species, as I previously mentioned.
Land degradation issues are increasing the risks to communities from floods and landslides and are having a negative impact on water quality to the detriment of subsistence communities.
And of course, deforestation rates are driving the release of large amounts of carbon emissions – presenting a challenge in any response to addressing climate change.
Land use change has contributed around 10 per cent of total human induced greenhouse gas emissions over the decade to 2013. And it highlights that any effort to address global greenhouse gas emissions needs to consider deforestation and forest degradation.
The international community understands this. There is an important framework of international rules in place under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to encourage efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD).
Australia welcomes the REDD plus ‘Rulebook’. It helps countries develop systems to monitor forests, measure changes and report carbon emissions and stocks. These tools and systems form the foundation for managing our natural resources in an environmentally sustainable way and in a way that can create value in preserving rainforests.
These systems are also important to ensure countries measure and track progress, in terms of the carbon, ecosystem and biodiversity benefits. We need to work collaboratively to develop these systems in a robust and consistent way.
There are a number of drivers of rainforest loss and degradation. And it largely comes back to securing food and shelter and driving economic growth. The growing demand for primary products such as palm oil, paper, pulp and timber are particular drivers for the Asia Pacific region. For example, oil palm production in Indonesia is expected to double by 2020, that’s enough new palm plantations to cover Singapore 56 times.
3. The way forward
We already know the demands on our regional resources can be met through better approaches.
There are solutions being implemented now that:
• provide a more sustainable approach to managing our rainforests;
• recognise the value of high conservation and high carbon stock areas;
• understand retaining natural infrastructure can avoid or mitigate the impacts of natural disasters and avoid the need for costly and reactive engineering options into the future; and
• recognise that the exploitation and trade of illegally logged timber is in no one’s interests except illegal operators.
Illegal logging results in national governments losing revenue, local communities losing their subsistence livelihoods and businesses doing the right thing losing market share and revenue.
It is an issue we need to address in the Asia-Pacific. While reliable figures are obviously difficult to assess, I understand that around 30 to 40 per cent of total wood-based exports in the Asia-Pacific were derived from illegal sources in 2010. This is a significant cost to national governments, local communities and the private sector and our natural ecosystems.
I think a key part of this solution is a strong collaborative approach across the region that leverages all our best efforts to combat illegal logging, strengthen our trading markets and valuing our natural assets.
A lot has been done already. APEC has established the Expert Group on Illegal Logging and Associated Trade to strengthen efforts to tackle cross-border illegal logging issues.
Most recently, the UN Climate Summit in September made a valuable contribution through the release of the New York Declaration on Forests.
Australia welcomes the language and the intent of the New York Declaration on Forests. We support the global goal of slowing, halting and reversing the rate of rainforest deforestation.
We need to design a framework that is both suitable for the Asia-Pacific region and aligns our efforts to support the global goal of halting deforestation. Importantly, the framework would recognise that not all drivers of deforestation – or approaches to tackle these issues – are the same for each region.
In short, we need to identify practical actions and complementary approaches that will work for our region and its communities.
This needs to be done through building on our strong connections established and developed through forums such as APEC and ASEAN. We also need to draw on our neighbours, learning from each other’s experiences and using the expertise developed across the region.
4. Australia’s Commitments in the Asia-Pacific Region
Australia is committed to working with the region to protect our valuable tropical rainforests, to support our industry in becoming more sustainable and to recognise the role of indigenous communities in this transition.
Australia has a long-standing commitment to combat the international trade in illegally logged timber. We have been working with our regional partners to promote legality and sustainability certification and to promote the need for processors to conduct due diligence when sourcing legally logged timber.
And today, I take great pleasure in announcing that the Australian Government is committing $6 million to address illegal logging. The new funding will support the third phase of the Responsible Asia Forestry and Trade programme.
RAFT 3, as it is known, will boost initiatives to protect Asia-Pacific’s rainforests, support a more sustainable timber trade and provide greater access to markets. It will work with business, land-owners and regional processors to develop certification systems to better measure, price and market certified timber. It will also conduct due diligence for sourcing legally logged timber.
Today’s announcement builds on the $8 million provided by Australia in 2012 under our Illegal Logging Regional Capacity Building Project to foster the sustainable management of forests, through targeted capacity building activities. This program has proven to be extremely successful. It has led to, among other things, exciting results from research conducted by the University of Adelaide looking into using DNA markers to track where a timber product originated and whether it was legally harvested.
Australia has also implemented legislation to combat illegal logging. This legislation responds to community and business concerns about the negative impacts of illegal logging. It makes it an offence to import or process timber that has been illegally logged. From 30 November this year, new regulations will require importers and domestic processors to manage the risk that they are dealing with illegally logged timber.
These types of activities are required to reduce illegal flows of rainforest products – a major concern for the region. We need a collaborative and collegiate approach. Particularly given that the majority of timber trade in the Asia-Pacific is with our regional partners. There is little benefit of closing one door to the illegal timber market if other potential doors remain open.
Another area Australia recognises is important is in providing technical support to countries to help them develop robust systems to measure, report and verify forest resources. These systems are essential to enable sustainable forest management.
We are working with other countries to develop such monitoring, reporting and verification systems. For example, we share the leadership of the Global Forest Observations Initiative with the United States, Norway, the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites and the Food and Agriculture Organisation. This initiative supports national efforts to better manage forest resources and establish forest carbon accounting systems.
Australia is also assisting developing countries strengthen their capacity to measure, report and verify changes in forest carbon stocks. This includes assisting Indonesia to harness satellite data capability as part of their national carbon accounting system.
Not only do these systems underpin sustainable carbon and forest management, they also support the fundamentals of sound environmental management to protect our forest, air and water resources.
Further, these systems are a necessary element to unlock assistance from countries that value carbon and other benefits delivered in developing countries.
5. Australia’s Domestic Commitments
Australia recognises that economic growth cannot be divorced from sound management of our natural assets. Australia has a comprehensive approach which is identified through our four pillars of clean air, clean land, clean water and heritage protection.
As part of the clean air pillar, Australia is implementing its Direct Action Plan on climate change to achieve the target of a five per cent emissions reduction on 2000 levels by 2020.
The heart of the Direct Action Plan is the Emissions Reduction Fund. And I am pleased to say that last month a significant milestone was achieved when the legislation to implement the Emissions Reduction Fund was passed by the Senate.
This means that, once passed by the House of Representatives and proclaimed, businesses and the community have the impetus to improve practices, invest in new technologies, and reduce emissions. This is a big achievement for Australia’s environmental policy.
The land sector is one of the key sectors targeted by the Emissions Reduction Fund. Participants in this sector are well placed to bid into the Emissions Reduction Fund. I look forward to seeing new projects and abatement from this sector once the Emission Reduction Fund is up and running.
In terms of clean land, Australia is investing more than $2 billion in managing our natural resources, enabling communities to take practical action to improve their local environment. This includes funding for the National Landcare Programme – one part of which is the new commitment to planting 20 million trees in the landscape by 2020 to improve the extent, connectivity and condition of native vegetation.
Through our National Reserve System we are protecting more than 10,000 areas, covering over 127 million hectares. This multijurisdictional reserve system is conserving examples of our unique landscapes, plants and animals for future generations. This includes protecting 68 per cent of Australia’s rainforests.
Again, I welcome you to Australia and this Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit.
I thank you for your support for protecting regional rainforests, demonstrated by your attendance, and your willingness to discuss the approaches in your respective countries.
I am excited to hear about the actions being implemented in the region. And to hear what is working to slow, halt and reverse the rate of rainforest loss and assist governments and business deliver on our collective objectives.
I look forward to a frank and robust discussion that will allow innovative ideas for action. It is now our turn to come up with an approach suitable for the region and to translate global goals into practical actions that suit regional circumstances and conditions.
I am also very keen to hear your ideas on how to take these practical actions forward. In particular, I am keen to hear your thoughts on the merits of a collaborative regional approach.
As I said at the beginning of this speech, my sincere hope is that this will be the first in a series of Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summits. I hope that we can begin today a process of drawing closer together with the common goal of protecting one of our region’s greatest natural resources.