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Australia and UNCED.





Climate Change


Desertification, Soils and Land Management



Marine and Coastal


Toxic and Hazardous Chemicals


Technology Transfer



This paper is largely based on information drawn from three major sources: The Australian National Report to UNCED 1, a Status report on UNCED 2 and the draft Australian Delegation Report of the Fourth Meeting of the Preparatory Committee for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development 3.

On 22 December 1989 the United Nations decided to convene a two week long United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Brazil to coincide with World Environment Day, 5 June 1992 (Resolution 44/228). It outlined the major issues to be considered by the conference:

protection of the atmosphere by combating climate change, depletion of the ozone layer and transboundary pollution;

protection of the quality and supply of freshwater resources;

protection of the oceans and all kinds of seas, including semi- enclosed seas, and of coastal areas and the protection, rational use and development of their living resources;

protection and management of land resources by, inter alia, combating deforestation, desertification and drought;

conservation of biological diversity;

environmentally sound management of biotechnology;

environmentally sound management of wastes, particularly hazardous wastes, and of toxic chemicals, as well as prevention of illegal international traffic in toxic and dangerous products and wastes;

improvement of the living and working environment of the poor in urban slums and rural areas, through eradicating poverty, inter alia, by implementing integrated rural and urban development programmes, as well as taking other appropriate measures at all levels necessary to stem the degradation of the environment; and

protection of human health conditions and improvement of the quality of life.

The same resolution stated that a number of cross- sectoral issues are to be taken into account, namely, financial issues, technology transfer, legal aspects, institutions, economic instruments, issues relating to women and young people, debt, trade, poverty, population growth and human rights.

The Conference will be held in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil on 3- 14 June 1992 and its agenda will include the following items for decisions:

an 'Earth Charter' which will include the principles for sustainable development (now referred to as the Rio Declaration);

'Agenda 21' which will be an action plan to implement the principles of the Earth Charter;

signing of an International Convention on Biodiversity;

s igning of an International Convention on Climate Change; and

possible agreement on a statement of principles on management of the world's forests.

The Preparatory Committee for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (PrepCom) has held four sessions to prepare, negotiate and finalise documents for adoption at UNCED. Separate intergovernmental negotiating committees have ben established to negotiate the conventions on Climate Change and Biological Diversity which will be open for signing at UNCED in Rio. Australia has been coordinating positions and strategies on most issues at the PrepComs with Canada and New Zealand (the 'CANZ' group) and on specific issues with the 'Cairns' group, other OECD countries, Pacific Island countries, developing countries in the Asia- Pacific region and with Antarctic Treaty parties.

While there was substantial agreement on much of the documentation for UNCED at the fourth PrepCom meeting held in New York, 3 March - 5 April 1992, negotiations will still be required on significant issues at Rio.

At the same meeting there was general agreement on:

a draft Rio Declaration (Earth Charter) to be presented as an agreed chairman's text which has not been wholly endorsed by any country (see Appendix 1);

the concept of a permanent institution for sustainable development within the UN system with two options for such an institution to oversee the implementation of Agenda 21;

strong commitment to the adoption of national plans, strategies and policies for sustainable development and relative agreement on texts relating to technology transfer, education, science and information;

contentious issues in Agenda 21 such as demographics (population), health, biotechnology, fisheries, forest programs and toxic chemicals, only requiring settlement of some paragraphs at pre- Summit negotiations in Rio.

Unresolved issues included:

funding and funding mechanisms [Some developing countries want a global 'Green fund' under UN auspices to be set up to fund all programs related to UNCED outcomes, while developed countries want global programs funded through the Global Environment Facility (GEF) of the World Bank, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). However developed countries appear to be generally agreed that new and additional funds are necessary to address global issues. Non- global Agenda 21 items will be funded through existing assistance channels though the developed countries may be prepared to consider the addition of an UNCED increment to total aid funds];

the proposed forest principles section;

the proposal for a convention on desertification; and

elements of Agenda 21 relating to the atmosphere, held up pending the outcome of the convention negotiations. [Now that agreement has been reached at the negotiations on the Convention in early May this section will be resolved at Rio.]

The major areas of disagreement on UNCED topics tend to be between the developing and developed countries whose priorities are different when it comes to environment and development. The issues are who pays for the resolution of environmental problems, which problems should have the highest priorities and whether development of countries should be slowed to deal with environmental problems. UNCED is covering a huge range of issues which impact on the environment, such as poverty, international financing, technology transfer, women, institutional issues, trade, taxation, environmental subsidies, youth, indigenous peoples, etc. References to population in Agenda 21 is viewed with concern by many G 77 countries, a group comprising most of the world's developing countries.

Earlier this year countries such as Malaysia voiced concern over the use and relevance of UNCED to developing countries when developed countries were not -as claimed by Malaysia - making concessions to the genuine concerns of developing countries in the negotiations. In April 1992 the environment ministers of 55 developing countries issued the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on Environment and Development in which they state their objectives and aims for UNCED. Appendix 2 contains some excerpts from this declaration. The Eastern European countries have been seeking special recognition of their problems and this has added to the complexity of negotiations at PrepCom. While there have been disagreements and unresolved issues relating to Agenda 21 it appears that countries are willing to work towards consensus on the wording and make a commitment to its implementation.



In October 1991 the former Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) announced that he was attending UNCED in Rio but the present Prime Minister (Mr Keating) has decided against attending. The Minister for Arts, Sports, the Environment and Territories (Mrs Kelly) announced on 25 March 1992 that she would be leading the Australian government delegation to the Rio summit accompanied by the Minister for Overseas Trade (Mr Kerin) and the Minister for Resources (Mr Griffiths). Sir Ninian Stephen, leader of the Australian delegation to the Preparatory Committee meetings, will be a senior participant in a large group of 49 delegates including State Government representatives and non- Government members from industry, unions, ACFOA and non- government conservation bodies. The Opposition Spokesman on Environment (Mr Chaney) will also be attending the Conference as part of the Australian delegation.(see Appendix 3)

Australia has produced its National Report to UNCED. The chapter on International Cooperation on the Environment included the principles which the Commonwealth Government endorsed in March 1991 as Australia's objectives, approaches and priorities for the Preparatory Committee for the UNCED. These principles are included as Appendix 4. The National Report discusses possible outcomes from the UNCED process. It expresses the concern that UNCED should not be the end of the process but should lead to the development of more effective mechanisms for international cooperation on environment and development issues.

Climate Change

On 11 October 1990 The Commonwealth Government decided to adopt an interim target of stabilising by the year 2000 the emission of those greenhouse gases, at their 1988 levels,(eg. carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, etc) not already controlled by the Montreal Protocol on ozone depleting substances (eg chlorofluorocarbons). These emissions would be reduced by 20% from 1988 levels by the year 2005. However, it was decided that Australia would not proceed with control measures which would have a net adverse impacts on its economy or trade competitiveness if similar action were not taken by major greenhouse gas producing countries. The Government is presently considering an Industry Commission report on the costs and benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The framework Convention on Climate Change at UNCED (Rio) agreed to by the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee in New York in May 1992 will be signed at Rio. The Federal Cabinet decided on May 5 that Australia will sign the Convention. The Convention will set no firm targets or timetables to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The United States opposed the setting of targets or timetables to limit the production of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas. This effectively stymied the inclusion of such limits in the Convention since the US generates about 25% of all greenhouse gases. The participation of the USA is essential for such a convention to be effective and without US participation it would have been impossible to convince less developed countries to agree to it.

Issues related to climate change will be included in Agenda 21 and these will form the basis for international action on climate change until the Protocols which implement the Convention are negotiated and come into force. It was agreed at PrepCom 4 that the Agenda 21 text would not attempt to prejudice issues under discussions at the Climate Convention negotiations. The proposal for a new UN organisation to deal with energy matters was strongly opposed by most delegations and the text was revised to refer to strengthening existing arrangements. There was disagreement over energy references in this section such as mention of 'safe' alternative sources, type of future action on mechanisms to improve energy efficiency and a program to eliminate waste in industry. The Arab group wanted to remove all references to energy consumption.

The Opposition announced in February 1992 that it will be reviewing its policy of endorsing a target of 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2000 in light of the Convention and other decisions at Rio.


Maintenance of biodiversity involves more than just protecting endangered species and setting up national parks, it is also about protecting remnant vegetation, off- reserve conservation and pest management. Issues affecting the maintenance of biodiversity include habitat change and degradation, introduced animals and plants, research, production aspects of biodiversity and accelerated climate change.

In February 1992 the Commonwealth's Biological Diversity Advisory Committee released its draft National Biodiversity Strategy for

public comment. It was originally intended that a final document would be ready for the delegation to present to the Rio conference but a final version will not be approved until much later in the year due to the need for further consultation.

PrepCom 4 revised the Agenda 21 chapter on biodiversity to be supportive and consistent with the draft convention. Australia, through the CANZ group successfully resisted moves to replace references to the conservation of biological diversity with concepts concerning the sustainable use of biological resources, which is entirely different.

The Biological Diversity Convention has been agreed to at a meeting in Nairobi on May 22 and it will available for signing at Rio on World Environment Day June 5. The Convention is a consensus document the effectiveness of which will depend upon the commitment of those countries who ratify it. The interim funding for the convention's implementation will be via the Global Environment Fund (GEF). The developing nations' proposal to set up a new funding mechanism was rejected. Intellectual property rights are protected under the Convention and countries of the North will have a degree of access to the biological resources of the South and countries of the South will have new access to the technological resources of the North. On June 1, the Federal Cabinet decided that Australia will sign the convention.

Desertification, Soils and Land Management

International action on desertification has stalled and the UNCED participants are looking to reinvigorate a desertification program of UNEP in which Australia played a major early role. A revitalised program would provide opportunities for the use of Australian expertise in arid lands management. At PrepCom 4 African countries pressed for the negotiation of a convention on desertification, the most pressing environmental issue facing many African states, but this was not agreed to. The convention proposal has the support of the G 77 countries, and some western European countries agreed with the need for urgent action on desertification, implying tacit support for a convention. The issue will be debated at Rio with African countries trying to get support for their proposal.

In discussions of the Agenda 21 section on Sustainable Agriculture, protectionism and market access were resolved as part of a broader package of trade and environmental issues negotiated between the EC and the Cairns Group.


The G- 7 nations, a group of the world's seven largest industrial powers, proposed a Forests Convention, based on principles being negotiated by UNCED PrepCom, but this has been stalled by Malaysia and India who want the Principles to be tried first before considering the need for a convention. The issue of a Forests Convention, which is supported by the US, the EC and the Nordic countries, will be a major item of debate at Rio. The relationship of the Principles and the Convention in the proposed text of Agenda 21 is as follows:

Facilitate and support effective implementation of the non- legally binding authoritative statement of principles for global consensus on the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests, adopted by the UNCED, and on the basis of these principles, give all possible support to efforts [to develop appropriate international cooperation]/[negotiation of an appropriate legal instrument] to promote the implementation of national strategies and programmes aimed at forest management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests, including afforestation, reforestation and rehabilitation.

While the Agenda 21 section on Forests (Land Resources: Deforestation) was generally agreed to, the Forest Principles document was not and a great deal of negotiation will be required before agreement is reached. Reference to primary or old growth forests was removed from the text and the section which refers to sustainable forest management being undertaken in accordance with internationally acceptable guidelines was not agreed to by developing countries such as Malaysia. Malaysia said that there should be free trade in forest products with no environmental conditions. There was also disagreement on the statement "Forest conservation and sustainable development policies should be integrated with economic, trade and other relevant policies".

Australia's position is to support the Principles that are negotiated at Rio but to wait to assess the effectiveness of their implementation before considering the necessity of developing a convention. The Australian government has still to announce its decision whether it will place a ban on the importation of rainforest timbers and, if it does, under what conditions.


Groups lobbying on behalf of developing countries have proposed that all western biotechnology companies pay a levy to help conserve the world's genetic resources and that this be included as part of the Biodiversity Convention. A global fund would be used to protect species diversity and safeguard important ecosystems and would finance payments to countries or indigenous groups for the rights to use native species. This proposal did not receive support in Convention negotiations where it was decided that access to genetic resources would be negotiated between countries on mutually agreed terms which could involve payment for such access.

The developing countries link access to western biotechnology with the Biodiversity Convention and with sustainable agriculture. Australia, along with other developed countries, does not agree with this but the Department of Arts, Sport, Environment and Territories and the Department of Community Services and Health want better coordination of procedures on the release of genetically modified organisms.

Key issues of the biotechnology chapter of the Agenda 21 still to be resolved include:

liability and compensation legislation covering social and environmental damage from application of biotechnology;

the extent of references to population control, embryo experimentation, animal experimentation, gene patenting, farmer's rights, etc;

whether socio- economic impacts are to be considered at the earliest phase of the development of biotechnologies;

the capacity of the industry to be able to feed a future world of 10 billion people and provide adequate health care; and

inclusion of religious, ethical or cultural principles.

Marine and Coastal

Regulation of land- based marine pollution at the global and regional level is seen as a priority by Australia which is currently developing national water quality guidelines as a means of addressing this problem at the national level. Negotiations for an international instrument to regulate this type of pollution are underway for completion after UNCED.

Marine and coastal matters will be considered for inclusion in Agenda 21. The most important issues in this section relate to marine living resources and their management at the interface between national and international waters. The role of the Antarctic Treaty in protecting the Antarctic ecosystem was recognised in the section. However the EC was unable to accept a proposal for convening an intergovernmental conference on high seas fisheries put forward by the US.


Issues affecting freshwater are numerous and relate to the availability of water for domestic, industrial and agricultural use, the quality of this water and that of lakes and rivers, and the technology and environmental and social impact of irrigation schemes.

The Australian Government is focusing on a number of freshwater issues at UNCED but these will not be given a high priority compared to other issues. International programs could draw on Australian expertise in areas such as catchment management. South Pacific countries are particularly interested in gaining support for activities to maximise efficient use of groundwater. There was little disagreement at PrepCom 4 on this Agenda 21 chapter though the Introduction and General Objectives were not negotiated and these will have to considered at Rio.

Toxic and Hazardous Chemicals

Australia is the twentieth country to join the International Hazardous Waste Convention (Basel Convention) and as a result the Convention came into force in May 1992. Australia has already passed legislation regulating the import and export of hazardous waste.

The toxic chemicals chapter included a new program area at PrepCom 4 on illegal movement of toxic and dangerous chemicals. However OECD countries were concerned that there would be confusion between dangerous products and toxic chemicals. Australia supported the USA in opposing a proposal for a global convention on toxic and dangerous products. The control of trade, including the issue of making 'Prior informed Consent' mandatory, was already addressed in the section on information exchange on toxic chemicals and chemical risks.

The section on environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes was generally agreed to but with unresolved issues of technology transfer, military establishments, illegal traffic in hazardous wastes and transnational corporations. Reference to the Polluter Pays principle was amended to meet the concerns of some developing countries. Agreed issues include the need for waste minimisation, ultimate phasing out of the processes generating wastes which pose an unmanageable or unacceptable risk, the principle that treatment and disposal of waste should be done as close as possible to point of generation and the acceptance that regional conventions may need to be developed.


This is a key issue on which the success of UNCED and the convention negotiations depend. Money and access to new technology is needed to ensure that it is in developing countries' interest to halt production of CFCs and minimise increases in greenhouse gas production while facilitating industrialisation. Debt, poverty and population pressures have often compelled developing countries to deplete their natural resources to meet immediate survival needs. Australia recognises the need for funding but there are questions as to whether there should be new funds and if so, whether they should include accountable structures of control, oversight and evaluations. Australia would prefer to see the World Bank's Global Environment Facility used as a basis for new funding arrangements. Specific regional funds under the control of existing regional environment bodies are not favoured.

PrepCom 4 failed to find common ground on funding and it will require further compromise between the G 77 countries and major donor countries. While OECD countries accept that there is a requirement for new and additional funding to address global issues, they see funding as one aspect of a broad range of resource transfer issues. They want the GEF to be the main conduit to developing countries for funding of global environmental issues. However it was agreed that control and transparency of decision making in the GEF needed to be improved to make that body more acceptable to developing countries. Those countries are still proposing a green fund or regional funding mechanisms linked to regional development banks.

Technology Transfer

Technology transfer includes the transfer of intellectual property rights, infrastructure assistance, training, education and the facilitation of local technological development. The aim of developing countries is to gain access to necessary technology at a price they can afford. As a result, developing countries want preferential and discounted access to environmental technologies. However Australian government departments want to enhance transfers of technology by removing existing barriers and by increasing the absorptive capacity of recipient countries. The Department of Industry, Technology and Commerce and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade want to pursue commercial opportunities arising from the resolution of this issue.

Questions of definition, research issues, access to commercial technology through aid programs, collaboration, investment, South/South and North/South transfers were resolved at PrepCom 4. Disagreement remains on the following issues:

some oil producing states want to delete references to reducing energy consumption;

patent protection as a potential impedient to technology transfer;

a call for an international code of conduct;

compulsory acquisition of technology;

the relationship and balance between the terms transfer and cooperation; and

the level of 'assured access' in countries whose major technology holdings are in the private sector.


1. Department of Arts, Sport, the Environment, and Territories

1991 Australian National Report to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Prepared on behalf of the Australian Government. AGPS Canberra

2. Department of Arts, Sport, the Environment, Tourism and Territories

1991 Status Report on UNCED DASETT 17/2/91

3. Department of Arts, Sport, the Environment and Territories

1992 Draft Australian Delegation Report of the Fourth Meeting of the

Preparatory Committee for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) PrepCom 4 DASET April 1992.


Appendix - Australia's Principles for PrepCom of UNCED

Precautionary Principle

Environmental measures must anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of environmental degradation. Especially where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation.

Equitable Sharing of International Costs and Benefits

The costs and benefits of taking action or inaction should be shared equitably. Australia believes that no State (ie Nation) should be required to bear a disproportionate part of the burden of adjustment or global environmental change.

Intergenerational Equity

The present generation should ensure that the next generation is left with an environment which is at least as healthy, diverse and productive as the one the present generation experiences.


Public and private decisions need to be based on careful evaluation to avoid, where possible, irreversible damage to the environment.

Ensuring that Environmental Assets are Appropriately Valued

Valuation of environmental assets should take into account all relevant vales including economic, ecological, aesthetic and social values.

Polluter Pays

Those who generate or benefit from pollution should bear the cost.

User Pays

The users of goods should pay prices based on the full life cycle costs of providing them including the use of natural resources, (including the global commons), and the ultimate disposal of any wastes.

International Trade Consistency

There needs to be consistency between international trade and environmental obligations.

Trade Distortion and Proportionality

The impact of response strategies envisaged under international environment agreements should be least trade- distorting, and be in proportion to the environmental problems being addressed.

Endorsed by the Australian Government, March 1991

ISSN 1038-0116

Copyright Commonwealth of Australia 1992

Except to the extent of the uses permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means including information storage and retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the Department of the Parliamentary Library, other than by Members of the Australian Parliament in the course of their official duties.

Published by the Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1992