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Your Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen… A-salaam-u-alaykum.
Let me begin with a heartfelt thank you, and in particular I thank both His Highness Sheikh Mohammed and Thomson Reuters for this award.
On a personal level I am genuinely humbled to receive this award. I am however deeply proud that this inaugural award is being presented to an environment minister. The environment is our common heritage, our land, our home and our identity.
As an Australian I also see this as recognition of the profound work Australia has done in the environment space – and I thank you for that.
Today at this World Government Summit I applaud the UAE’s vision to be one of the most innovative nations in the world. Indeed, within the environment, the UAE is promoting innovation in the renewable industry while supporting research in clean technology.
There are great challenges. However, I am fundamentally optimistic.
In that context, we all learn from each other, and perhaps there are some policies and programmes we have in Australia that may be of interest, both domestically and internationally.
2. Protecting Australia’s environment
Australia has a relatively small population of almost 24 million people. But we are an island continent with a unique environment that is beautiful, ancient and fragile.
For this reason, Australia has had to implement innovative policies, technologies and business practices to protect and improve our natural environment.
2.1 Clean Water
When we came to Government just over two years ago, one of the world’s natural icons – the Great Barrier Reef – was on track to be listed as ‘in danger’ by the United Nations World Heritage Committee.
This is not an outcome I was prepared to accept, and I am pleased that we have overseen new and unprecedented protections for the Reef.
We took four major steps to help turn around the health of the Reef:
• We ended plans for five massive dredge disposal projects in the Great Barrier Reef’s waters;
• We banned the 100-year practice of capital dredge disposal in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park;
• We developed and put in place our Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan;
• We provided $140 million for a Reef Trust which will invest in projects with a focus on improving water quality as part of an overall $2 billion investment in the Reef.
These efforts resulted in the World Heritage Committee declaring last July that Australia was a global role model for the management of World Heritage properties and that the Reef would not be listed ‘in danger’ but was being returned to full status.
2.2 Clean Land
We know that cities with high levels of trees, foliage and green space provide enormous benefits to their residents.
In Australia’s cities and regional areas, we’re seeing a real boost to this thanks to a programme we’ve established called the Green Army.
It’s about getting young Australians involved in practical on-the-ground work to protect the environment and provide training benefits to participants.
More than 5000 young Australians are involved in teams of up to 10. They are learning skills as well as restoring and protecting habitat, weeding, planting, cleaning up creeks and rivers and restoring cultural heritage places. Young indigenous Australians are particular beneficiaries.
We’ve also committed to planting 20 million trees by 2020, with almost 10 million trees already contracted for planting over the next three years.
We’re also protecting Australia’s native wildlife from feral pests with the launch of Australia’s first Threatened Species Strategy and the appointment of Australia’s first Threatened Species Commissioner.
We’re streamlining Australia’s environment laws to remove unnecessary duplication between state and federal processes, whilst delivering better environmental outcomes.
This allows swift decisions to be made, which improves Australia's investment climate, while maintaining our very high environmental standards and protections.
2.3 Clean Air and climate change
Crucial to our quality of living is the quality of the air we breathe.
Australia's air quality remains very good by world standards.
However, there are ongoing challenges and that’s why working with Australia’s states and territories we have created Australia's first National Clean Air Agreement.
This means our air will be cleaner and our health will be better.
In addition to a strong focus on clean air, Australia is tackling climate change.
We exceeded our first Kyoto target and are well on track to meet and beat our 2020 target.
Beyond that, our 2030 target of minus 26-28% is a further step up in ambition.
Our 2030 target is the equivalent of reducing emissions per capita by up to 52 per cent – the equal largest reduction of any G20 economy, along with Brazil.
Crucial to achieving this is the deployment of innovative policies, including the Government’s landmark Emissions Reduction Fund.
Emissions Reduction Fund
At its essence, the Emissions Reduction Fund can be described in three simple steps: credit, purchase, and safeguard.
Firstly, we issue credits to practical projects that reduce emissions. These projects must meet strict rules and international carbon accounting standards.
We learnt from the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism, which has registered over 4,000 projects and issued over 1.6 billion credits.
Secondly, the Government purchases those credits using a competitive reverse auction – one buyer, many sellers – to acquire the lowest cost emissions reduction.
Across the first two auctions alone, the Government has secured nearly 93 million tonnes of emissions reduction from 275 practical projects at an average price of just over AUD$13 per tonne.
While these projects must reduce emissions, many have valuable co-benefits. In Paris there was significant interest in these co benefits such as indigenous employment opportunities, land rehabilitation, forest protection, soil carbon, waste diversion and energy efficiency.
Thirdly, to ensure that emissions reductions under the ERF are not offset by significant rises elsewhere in the economy, there is the safeguard mechanism.
The safeguard mechanism sets a baseline on Australia’s largest emitters. It has been designed to encourage business to move to best practice.
One key point about Australia’s domestic climate change policies, is that we have shown it is possible to significantly reduce emissions without hurting our economy or putting extra strain on the lowest income earners.
Crucial for reducing emissions is greater adoption of renewable energy.
Australia is fortunate to have 2.4 million solar homes covering 15 per cent of the country – the highest in the world.
Last month I opened Australia’s two largest solar power plants – which together more than double Australia’s large-scale solar capacity and can generate enough electricity to power 50,000 average Australian homes.
Driving this growth is a Renewable Energy Target that will require the same amount of large-scale renewable energy to be built in the next five years as has been built over the past 15 years.
In recent months I’ve made it clear to the world that Australia is open for renewable investment – and I want to reinforce and emphasise that point here today.
Australia is also known for its liveable cities.
Each year, our cities appear near the very top of international rankings – with my home city of Melbourne topping the Economist’s liveability ranking as the world’s most liveable city for a fifth consecutive year.
We have new sustainable precincts being planned or under construction such as Barangaroo in Sydney. I am equally eager though to witness the potential for Masdar City’s sustainable designs and technologies in Abu Dhabi to be retrofitted into Australia’s cities.
The emergence of new technologies and innovation to supplement, and in some cases replace, the industries of the past, requires new thinking.
I am therefore pleased to announce today that the Australian Government is providing $250 million to help finance affordable energy efficient housing for low income earners.
3. International environment action
This brings me to a possible common global environmental agenda based on our shared planet.
3.1 The Montreal Protocol
In November last year, the UAE hosted the Montreal Protocol discussion aimed at both protecting our ozone layer and reducing greenhouse emissions.
Australia was delighted to support the UAE in producing a breakthrough Dubai Roadmap to phasedown HFCs and to save the world an astonishing 90 billion tonnes of emissions to 2050.
Our common global agenda should now be to secure a fair, equitable and effective agreement which will implement that Roadmap.
3.2 International climate action: global rainforest recovery agreement
The Paris Climate conference was a success. It created a pathway and a platform for global action.
Now, the task is to deliver on the pledges.
Deforestation is one of the major contributors to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2014, Australia hosted the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit in Sydney that brought together regional ministers and 300 policy and technical experts.
We looked at how community and indigenous groups can become more engaged in forest management, and how we could eliminate deforestation from global supply chains.
Out of the Summit came a Plan to reverse the loss of our region’s tropical rainforests.
Tonight I would like to propose that the world works towards a Global Rainforest Recovery Agreement.
This agreement would be about incentives to help protect the great forests of the world, and as a storehouse of the world’s terrestrial carbon.
3.3 Blue carbon
And just as rainforests have an incredible capacity to absorb greenhouse gases, so too do the great mangrove swamps of the world.
Indeed the UAE has been a pioneer in mangrove, or blue carbon, conservation with its twin benefits of emissions reduction and marine biodiversity.
Today, I am therefore delighted to announce that we will work together on helping create an International Partnership for Blue Carbon.
The Partnership will aim to accelerate action on protecting our great mangrove systems.
We invite other countries to join us. I hope and believe this will also provide momentum towards international action to combat the plastics which are choking our oceans.
In conclusion, thank you to the UAE and in particular to His Highness for your work in hosting this truly valuable World Government Summit.
Our work as ministers may seem hard some days. But it can be deeply meaningful. We could not do it without our departments or our offices and I have been magnificently supported by both.
In the end though, I am optimistic that we can achieve our goals. I am optimistic because of the lessons that my father taught me about the value of a vision supported by a plan.
I am optimistic because of the lessons my mother taught me about community, because of the determination I learnt my friend and mentor Alexander Downer. I am optimistic because of the support I have had from two successive Australian Prime Ministers.
Above all else I am optimistic, because as husband to Paula and father to Poppy and James, I can see the same inviolable truth that all parents see…in the end, humanity and the environment are both fundamentally worthy and fundamentally linked.